Joint Committee on Housing to hear testimony on the Affordable Homes Act

JANUARY 14, 2024

Dear Constituents:

As State Representative for parts of Cambridge and Somerville, the ongoing housing emergency continues to be my number one focus on Beacon Hill. Today's housing emergency is truly unprecedented — never in our history has affordable housing been this out of reach to this many people, and never has homelessness been this pervasive.

On Thursday, at 11 am, the legislature's Joint Committee on Housing will conduct a hybrid public hearing to consider H.4138, The Affordable Homes Act, Governor Healey's $4.1 billion housing bond bill filing.

The "housing bond bill" is a major piece of legislation that is considered by the legislature once every five years. It authorizes capital spending on the state's various affordable housing programs, and it often includes major policy items as well.

I am delighted that the Healey-Driscoll Administration included language to establish a Social Housing Pilot Program as part of the $275 million Sustainable and Green Housing Initiatives line-item in their bond bill filing. Over the past year, I've had several opportunities to engage with the Governor, the LG, Secretary Augustus, and the staff at the new Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) with regards to the extraordinary potential of the social housing concept.

Back in October, the Governor invited me to attend the big rollout for the Affordable Homes Act in Chelsea, where she and her Administration touted some of the policy highlights of the bill, including the social housing pilot program and funding authorization, a local option real estate transfer fee to fund additional local affordable housing production, the legalization of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) across the state, the prioritization of surplus state-owned land for housing development, and a change to the law to allow inclusionary zoning ordinances to pass by a simple-majority vote (rather than the current 2/3rds approval threshold). All of these items have been priorities of mine during my time in the legislature.

What Is Social Housing? Social housing is publicly financed, mixed-income housing, typically owned by a local housing authority or a related entity. In this recent New York Times feature, social housing is described as the state acting like "a benevolent real estate investor." Social housing combines some of the social benefits of traditional public housing with some of the cash-flow and scalability advantages of market-rate development, and it avoids some of the challenges that doomed so many of our public housing programs over the years.

The day after the rollout of the Affordable Homes Act, the legislature's Housing For All Caucus hosted economist Paul E. Williams at the State House for an in-depth talk on the social housing production model. As Co-Chair of the caucus, I offered an introduction to Paul's talk. I recently posted a video recording of our hybrid meeting from that day here on my YouTube.

The way I pitched the social housing concept to the Administration was to ask that we work toward getting an authorization for a pilot program in the bond bill, and from there, we envision a 12-month engagement/regulatory drafting process, where EOHLC would bring key stakeholders together to flesh out the details of the program. The core idea is the establishment of a social housing production revolving loan fund, to be administered by MassHousing or other qualified entity, that could be a source of construction financing for mixed-income housing developments, with our local housing authorities taking the lead in applying for funds and driving those projects forward, while allowing flexibility for housing authorities to work with a wide range of other partners.

If you would care to offer testimony to the Housing Committee on the social housing pilot program included in the Governor's bill, the local option real estate transfer fee, or any other provision of the bill, the deadline to sign up to testify is Monday, January 15, at 5 pm.

To sign up to testify, please fill out this form by 5 pm tomorrow. To submit written testimony, please email it to Luke O'Roark at [email protected] and Christianna Golden at [email protected].

In addition, whether you are able to testify on Thursday or not, you are also welcome to add your name to this letter my office is circulating to gather support for the social housing pilot program. To add your name to the letter, either individually or on behalf of an organization, please fill out this online form.

Thank you, as always, for being an informed and engaged constituent of the 26th Middlesex District.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly