MESSAGE TO THE HONORABLE MEMBERS OF THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE AND SENATE
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5, 2019
Our Commonwealth is facing an ongoing emergency in the shortage of affordable housing, extreme rent burden, foreclosure, and homelessness.
While we can all be proud of the work we did last session to enact the $1.8 billion Housing Bond Bill, and while there are many promising pieces of legislation on the table this session, as a lifelong tenant and as someone who grew up in public housing that was built by the Commonwealth, I believe we must broaden our ambitions and work toward a program of guaranteed Housing For All.
To this end, I invite you to co-sponsor six timely-filed bills that compliment many of the various other housing proposals now before the legislature. The House Clerk has indicated the co-sponsorship window is open now through June 10. Please accept the invitation to co-sponsor in LAWS, and please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly or have your staff contact Chris Addis in my office with any questions.
Co-lead-filed with Representative Nika Elugardo, the "Tenant Protection Act" provides municipalities with a variety of flexible options to address the housing emergency in a locally appropriate manner. Currently, M.G.L. Chapter 40P prohibits cities and towns from considering basic rent stabilization and tenant protection programs. With this legislation, we hope to bring all of the stakeholders together — that means renters and owners alike — to have an honest discussion about the best ways to prevent displacement. If adopted, this bill would provide municipalities with the authority to implement rent-stabilizing regulations, just cause eviction protections, stronger condominium conversion and foreclosure protections, anti-displacement zones, and options to help tenants manage the upfront costs of leasing an apartment. Earlier this year, Oregon adopted the nation’s first statewide rent regulation law, and right now, the Governor of California and the leaders of the New York State legislature are all pledging to support new legislation to protect tenants from catastrophic rent increases. Meanwhile, the City of Seattle recently passed an ordinance to limit upfront rental costs.
Last year, in testimony before the Joint Committee on Housing, Northeastern University housing expert Barry Bluestone suggested that the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville probably account for roughly three-quarters of all of the new multifamily housing currently being permitted in the 147 towns that make up Eastern Massachusetts. While the Governor's Housing Choices bill offers what some have described as a one-size-fits-all approach to address the need for increased regional production, HD.1118 specifically focuses on those places that are served by transit and requires that at least some multifamily housing be allowed by right within 1 mile of transit stations. The Executive Office of Administration and Finance will promulgate regulations to ensure that municipalities allow transit oriented development in locations where it is appropriate, and the Governor will be empowered to withhold funding from various state grands and apply an MBTA surcharge to communities that fail to make reasonable efforts to allow for multifamily housing near transit.
This legislation seeks to address a specific inequity in the Governor's Housing Choices bill. Under the Governor’s bill, certain zoning changes allowing for increased housing production would no longer require supermajority approval from a local council, board, or town meeting. Instead, simple-majority is proposed as the new approval standard for certain kinds of housing-related zoning changes. However, under the Governor's bill and other similar proposals, the standard two-thirds approval would still be required to implement or strengthen Inclusionary Zoning ordinances, such as the zoning ordinances we have in Cambridge and Somerville that require 20% of new construction to be deed-restricted as affordable in larger residential buildings. The purpose of this bill is to correct this inequity by putting Inclusionary Zoning on the same footing as the other housing production categories found in the Governor's bill and related bills.
We should all be proud of the work we did last session to pass the largest housing bond bill in our Commonwealth's history, but the fact remains the need for affordable housing subsidy far outstrips available funding. Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston issued a report highlighting the need for billions of dollars in additional funding just to preserve existing units as many "expiring use" buildings are due to lose their affordability restrictions in an accelerated fashion over the coming years. In part to address this concern, and in part to bolster our support of public housing authorities, this bill would add an additional $1 billion to last year's $1.8 billion housing bond bill. $250 million of this added authorization is directed to municipal public housing authorities, and all work performed with these additional funds would be subject to fair labor standards such as prevailing wage.
HD.2847 — An Act facilitating Housing For All
Massachusetts is truly facing a homelessness emergency touching every corner of our state. The goal of this legislation is to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue via a tax on large businesses for the sake of providing the funding necessary to rapidly end homelessness as we know it. This legislation is inspired by the "Proposition C" campaign in San Francisco. Last November, some 60% of that city’s voters approved a ballot question that seeks to end homelessness by taxing big business and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue into housing programs and support services. This is part of an innovative new concept – that the best way to end homelessness (and the best way to solve the health and social problems associated with homelessness) is for government to ensure everyone has a place to call home.
A remarkable number of apartments in the urban core area are currently being used as investment properties or second homes, sitting mostly unoccupied. Building new housing won’t remedy our supply shortage if people don’t live in them. New data suggests the big difference a tax on these vacant units could make. For example, once Vancouver implemented a tax on vacant units, they saw a 15% decrease in vacant homes from 2017 to 2018. This legislation would enable a city or town to levy a tax on the annualized last agreed upon monthly rental rate of each vacant residential unit, to disincentivize homes that aren’t lived in, and all of the proceeds would be directed to a local affordable housing trust fund.
To be clear, these bills do not constitute a complete or final "Housing For All" agenda. Rather, these six bills are intended to compliment other existing proposals — including efforts we are making to boost regional housing production, implement local options for real estate transfer fees, raise revenue from deeds excises taxes, limit international real estate speculation, and provide a right of first refusal and a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction and displacement.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this message. I look forward to continuing to work with you to address this emergency.
Yours in service,
Rep. Mike Connolly
26th Middlesex District – Cambridge & Somerville
Massachusetts State House
24 Beacon St. Room 33
Boston, Mass. 02133