ONE COMMONWEALTH AGENDA

REIMAGINING HOUSING

the agenda

Making Massachusetts One Commonwealth means taking an approach to governance that expresses respect for the dignity of every one of our fellow citizens and residents and commits to empowering all of us. Imagine a Commonwealth where all of us can live in vibrant, thriving communities with access to health care, quality schools, and the freedom to make our own best lives for ourselves and our families. One of the first things that any of us needs in order both to thrive and to contribute to our community is a safe, healthy, and secure place to live. Access to housing is a basic human need and the foundation for personal dignity, healthy democracy, and a growing, inclusive economy.

Yet, as I’ve traveled across Massachusetts listening to the concerns of our fellow citizens, no worry has been voiced more frequently than the cost of housing. In every part of our Commonwealth, we face an epidemic of housing insecurity: one that cuts across race, class, age, and place. Young adults can’t afford to begin independent lives outside their parents’ homes; renters worry constantly about where they’ll live when their leases expire; long-time community members and seniors are being priced out of family homes; service workers, teachers, and EMTs can’t afford to live in the communities where they work; young families can’t afford to buy houses and put down roots in their communities. From the Berkshires to the Cape, Massachusetts is facing a severe lack of affordable housing for renters and homeowners. Housing instability takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on families and families without stable housing face poor health outcomes and have negative health impacts. Working families should be able to afford housing and still have enough money to pay for the basics, like food, clothing, and health care. Housing needs to be available and affordable to everyone in the state, and support both sustainability and the social determinants of health.

During a listening tour event in March, I met Ed, who lives on Cape Cod. He grew up in Springfield, went to school in Amherst and Lowell, and spent time in Holliston before moving to the Cape. He’s seen our whole Commonwealth. Ed remembers a time when people could afford to buy houses in these areas and even retire on the income of a solid, middle-class job. But he doesn’t see that as possible today for his son, who manages an automobile shop in Framingham. The cost of housing is just too high, making it impossible for him to expect to stay for the long-term. Ed sees the same thing on the Cape. Young people are leaving: they can’t afford the housing, and there’s no reliable transportation into Boston. Young people and working families should be able to put down roots on Cape Cod or anywhere else in this great state without having to worry about choosing between paying rent or their mortgage and putting food on the table or paying for prescriptions. The lesson from Ed’s testimony is clear: what we need is an abundant supply of accessible, affordable, and stable housing throughout Massachusetts.

As Governor, I’ll work tirelessly to achieve that abundant, accessible, affordable supply. By joining together,  everyone in our Commonwealth, once again, will be able to put down roots in vibrant, diverse, safe, committed communities. And, while citizens across the Commonwealth are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and a safe place to call home, I know that the right solutions will vary by community. My approach to addressing the housing crisis will be flexible and reflective of the needs of each community.

The agenda below is the outcome of community collaboration at every level. It was developed in discussion with homeowners and renters across the state, leaders in housing nonprofits and the business community, and policy experts across the state. Most importantly, we listened to so many of our fellow citizens struggling with housing insecurity. Thanks to their wisdom and insight, we have a housing agenda that will significantly improve the lives of millions of Bay Staters. But work to refine that agenda remains: we’ll continue to engage with communities across Massachusetts so that all voices are heard in our efforts to knit the Commonwealth back together.

This agenda is just the beginning of a process. As we seek stakeholder engagement across the Commonwealth in the months ahead, the next critical ingredient we need is YOU. Together, we can ensure everyone is able to live in a neighborhood with good schools, grocery stores, parks and libraries with a safe, secure, and affordable place to live.

Click here to download the agenda. 

INCREASE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

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The Problem:

Rents are rising faster than income. Everywhere in the state, renters are cost-burdened at unacceptably high levels. Homeownership is also rocketing out of reach. Massachusetts is the third-most-expensive housing market in the country, after Hawaii and California. The challenge is demand that significantly outstrips supply.

The Solution: Invest in Municipal and Regional Strategic Planning to Achieve Abundant, Affordable Housing across the Whole Commonwealth

  • First, we will drivezoning changes that support a more diverse, affordable housing stock by initiating, mandating, and funding a municipal and/or regional planning process. While each municipality and/or region will be able to select a zoning strategy that works best for their unique community, selection will be from a menu of options designed by the state to increase affordability and livability. This menu will include options such as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) by-right, triple-deckers by-right, and a 100% affordable housing zoning overlay.
  • We will incentivize the creation of affordable options. Communities that establish a target of at least 15% affordable housing stock in their planning process, and can demonstrate concrete forward movement toward accomplishing that, will earn the additional investment in infrastructure needed to support densifying communities; a 20% target will earn bonus investments in civic infrastructure (for instance, libraries, parks, etc.); and targets at 15% or above will earn an exemption from 40B processes (still otherwise triggered when levels of affordable housing stock are less than 10%). 
  • To support these efforts and the quality of democratic decision-making, we will also continue to improve public meeting rules to support increased participation and will develop democratic housing scorecards for communities – which will include an accurate accounting of affordable housing units – to improve transparency and choice. The accurate accounting will support a Commonwealth-wide dashboard to communicate how well we are doing municipality by municipality at generating an abundant supply of housing affordable across all income levels.
  • We will increase the supply of housing units of all types by using a blend of public and private mechanisms, including via repurposing of abandoned buildings.

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INVEST IN FIRST-TIME HOMEOWNERS

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Empty headingThe Problem:

Gateway cities are experiencing crisis levels of eviction, hitting communities of color especially hard. Meanwhile, the cost of buying a home has risen to an exorbitant level, locking prospective first-time homeowners out of the market and exacerbating racial wealth gaps. 

The Solution: Invest in Tenants and First-time Homeowners

  • We’ll increase down payment assistance for first-time home-buyers, with prioritization on first-generation home-buyers, and strengthen partnerships with financial education and credit building organizations to help people not only get into their first homes, but stay in those homes long-term.
  • We’ll also improve and work to increase  funds for state rental assistance programs so all voucher holderscan find decent, safe, affordable housing in the communities they choose, which is difficult to achieve with current funding levels and programmatic features of programs like the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). 
  • We’ll help households avoid homelessness by providing back-rent assistance and stabilizing the recently restored statewide rental arrearage program. With such a program, the Department of Transitional Assistance found that 96 percent of recipients maintained stable housing and did not require more intensive assistance in the form of shelter stays for the following 12 months. 

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SUPPORT TENANTS' RIGHTS

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Empty headingThe Problem:

Gateway cities are experiencing crisis levels of eviction, hitting communities of color especially hard. Meanwhile, the cost of buying a home has risen to an exorbitant level, locking prospective first-time homeowners out of the market and exacerbating racial wealth gaps. 

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The Solution: Protect Tenants’ Rights 

  • We will tackle skyrocketing rents by overturning the state’s ban on local rent stabilization ordinances.  In place of the ban, we would establish “guardrails” for municipal ordinances to support allowing reasonable rent increases while also permitting caps to prevent rents from rising more than 10% per year. We believe that a cap at the 10% level will balance the values of stability for renters and incentives for property developers to improve and construct new units. 
  • To protect tenants who face eviction, we will establish a right to legal counsel in eviction cases and develop a just-cause eviction standard. We will also pass legislation to secure eviction record sealing so that no-fault eviction records can’t be used against tenants in determining a lease.  
  • To promote stability and choice we will pass a right of first refusal for tenants, which gives tenants the first chance to buy the building in which they live should the owner decide to sell that property.

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END HOUSING INSECURITY

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The Problem:

As of 2019, Massachusetts has the ninth-highest rate of unhoused individuals in the country, with about 27 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000. Massachusetts has seen a 22% increase in the unhoused population since 2007, the fifth largest among the 50 states and D.C. Family homelessness is at an all-time high with more than 4,000 families, and approximately 8,000 kids, in shelters.

The Solution: End Housing Insecurity

  • Our agenda starts with a commitment to expand and improve our Housing First programs, which recognize that people need a stable place to live before they can address other challenges like getting a job or getting help with substance abuse issues.
  • We will also increase funding for programs that prevent and address housing insecurity for those most in need, particularly housing-insecure youth and families. All children deserve a roof over their head and a safe place to live. Yet over the years, support for these vulnerable populations have been cut, resulting in a lack of resources and inefficient – and inhumane – barriers to access. Currently, families have to prove they have stayed in an uninhabitable place, such as a car or emergency room, before gaining eligibility for Emergency Assistance family shelter and services. Families experiencing homelessness should not have to stay in a place not meant for human habitation before being eligible for the services they need.
  • We will focus on addressing the underlying drivers of housing insecurity. Housing insecurity is a multidimensional problem that requires investment in the areas of workforce development, violence interruption, and physical, behavioral, and mental health. Our agenda for housing insecurity will be extended through our agendas in these other areas. 

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SUSTAINABILITY IN DENSITY

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The Problem: 

As the third most densely populated state in the country, we need to lead the way to uniting density and community health, along multiple dimensions–from issues of climate justice to cultural and economic thriving.

The Solution: Inspire a Culture of Beauty and Sustainability in Density

  • To protect open space and the beauty of the natural environment and to encourage the recognition that embracing density helps work on behalf of climate, we’ll encourage the use of land banks and home banks in tandem.
  • To encourage embracing density as a source of social, human, and climate value, we’ll sponsor a “Beauty in Density” competition to create pre-approved designs for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Triple-Deckers; competitions will be designed to incentivize innovative designs that meet high social, aesthetic, and environmental standards. 
  • We’ll accelerate investment in retro-fitting of homes to reduce carbon emissions.
  • We’ll engage MassHumanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and other civil society organizations to lead explorations of how increased density can be leveraged to deliver cultural, artistic, and social value to communities.

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CONCLUSION

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Housing, health, transportation, schools, jobs, justice, community, and empowerment. These are the building blocks of a livable life, and they have to fit together for life to be livable. What’s more, every person in Massachusetts deserves not just a livable life but an opportunity to build their best life. These building blocks are what every single one of us needs in order to have a foundation to stand on and live a healthy life. They are also the building blocks of an inclusive economy that will support growth throughout Massachusetts, increasing prosperity for all. Everything starts with having a safe and healthy place to live. 

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