It’s time for the Legislature to stop hiding behind unrealistic demands and the NIMBYism of wealthy communities and pass comprehensive legislation to create desperately needed housing by relaxing restrictive municipal zoning bylaws.
That’s essentially the message Gov. Charlie Baker sent to lawmakers on Wednesday when he announced the reintroduction of the bill he first proposed in 2017 to accomplish that goal.
The governor rightly noted in the time since his initial effort to ease the housing crisis failed to secure a vote in either branch of the Legislature, the problem has only gotten worse. That’s reinforced by every sales and price report compiled by housing-industry analysts, which consistently show decreasing sales and increasing prices. That in turn accelerates a pent-up demand that continually locks even more families out of the housing market.
And Baker ratcheted up the urgency in addressing this lack of affordable housing, characterizing it as key to the state’s ability to address other vexing problems like transportation options.
The bill the governor planned to file Wednesday closely mirrors that 2017 legislation.
That measure, “An Act to Promote Housing Choices,” sought to ease the zoning-approval process for construction of multifamily developments and other housing projects. It would have allowed communities to adopt certain zoning changes by a simple majority vote rather than the existing two-thirds requirement. With that technical tweak, along with $10 million in incentives to boost development, the Baker administration set a goal of providing 135,000 new housing units by 2025.
The governor’s proposal received favorable reviews from a cross-section of stakeholders, including the Commercial Real Estate Development Association of Massachusetts, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
And our major private employers know firsthand how the high cost of housing affects their ability to recruit and retain skilled labor. The lack of housing inventory makes it more difficult for young people to buy a home and for workers to live close to their jobs.
We’re certain the Baker administration would be the first to agree this legislation won’t solve all the state’s housing deficiencies, but it’s a vital first step.
Apparently, that’s not good enough for some legislators and housing advocates, who, when this bill was first proposed, said they wanted to see zoning reform go further to include tenant protections and affordability.
It’s the same myopic mindset that’s spawned criticism of Baker’s $1 billion in additional funding contained in his education bill.
Not getting everything isn’t a reason to do nothing. “All or Nothing at All” works as the title of a classic Sinatra song, but it’s not music to the ears of countless Massachusetts families stymied in their efforts to enjoy the benefits of home ownership.
It’s time for the Legislature to put pragmatism before politics.
According to Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, this bill’s identical to the one recommended last session by the Housing Committee.
So, will the Senate step up to the plate?
Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat, has taken over as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Housing, alongside longtime House chair Rep. Kevin Honan. According to the State House News Service, Crighton says he understands the urgency of finding some solution to this crisis.
The governor’s legislation fills that bill.