Introducing the Massachusetts Social Housing Act

June 20, 2023

Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents —

I am very proud to announce that we recently completed drafting new legislation to establish a Social Housing program in Massachusetts.

H.3873, An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Social Housing Programwas drafted by House Counsel and myself with input from some of our nation's leading social housing experts and some of our community's most dedicated housing justice organizers.

On Thursday at 6 pm, our Housing For All legislative table is hosting a special, virtual meeting where I will outline the workings of the bill and address any questions you may have. Then on Monday, June 26, at 10 am, the bill will be heard in a hybrid public hearing hosted by the legislature's Joint Committee on Housing.

Click here to register for Thursday's informational session with our legislative table group.

Click here to view or download the Massachusetts Social Housing Act fact sheet.

And click here to view the agenda for Monday's housing committee hearing. To speak in person or virtually at Monday's hearing, you'll need to sign up with committee staff by 5 pm on Thursday using this form. The hearing will feature this bill along with other bills pertaining to public housing, homelessness, and some home rule petitions. 

So, what is social housing, anyways?

Social housing is state financed, mixed-income housing, owned by a local or regional housing authority. It combines some of the benefits of traditional public housing with some of the cash-flow 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 biggest difference between this and our present conception of public housing is the "mixed-income" nature of social housing programs. Projects and percentages will vary, but all social housing developments will be available to people with a wide range of incomes. Typical projects may set aside 1/3rd of the new units for low-income residents, 1/3rd for middle-income residents, and 1/3rd for higher-income residents.

Public development of mixed-income housing offers a potential for cross-subsidization that doesn’t exist in traditional public housing. And unlike our spending on other housing programs, such as rental vouchers or low income housing tax credits, all our investments in the social housing program will be recouped over time, as housing authorities remit portions of social housing rents back to the program fund.  

Our bill proposes to have the Commonwealth issue $100 million in bonds to initially capitalize a Social Housing Production Revolving Loan Fund, administered by MassHousing or another designee. Local and regional housing authorities apply to the Fund for financing of new, mixed-income public housing. All units will be of the same quality, built to good labor standards and without any new gas hookups.

Social housing can help us reach the goal of producing 200,000+ new housing units in Massachusetts by the year 2030. It can serve as an additional complement to all the other modes of housing production now in motion. It can enable us to better target scarce public resources to get more housing, and more truly affordable housing, in a more efficient fashion. The Fund can also support the production of new, mixed-income housing to cross-subsidize the renovation of dilapidated state-owned public housing. The Fund can also play a powerful role in advancing Governor Healey's plans to leverage state-owned land for new housing development.

Social housing programs have proven successful and are gaining momentum. There’s a remarkable program in Montgomery Country, Maryland (population 1.1 million) that has already made significant contributions to that region’s housing supply; social housing is known for providing affordability to hundreds of thousands of residents of Vienna, Austria over the past 100 years, as well as in Singapore. The Rhode Island House Speaker and Senate President have each backed social housing legislation this term, the California Assembly recently passed a social housing bill, and voters in Seattle approved a ballot measure to create a social housing authority. Other proposals are active in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, and San Francisco. The concept was recently featured in SlateNonprofit Quarterly, Jacobin, and the New York Times.

Thank you, as always, for being an informed constituent. If you find the concept of social housing as exciting as I do, I hope you'll consider joining us Thursday to share your ideas and talk more about what this could mean for Massachusetts. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns about this or any other matter.  

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly