Thursday, September 26, 2019

Baker-Polito Administration Highlights Housing Choice Bill in Everett

Baker-Polito Administration Highlights Housing Choice Bill in Everett
Local leaders endorse legislation that aims to support communities statewide in their goals to increase new housing production

EVERETT – Today, Governor Charlie Baker, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy and Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Janelle Chan joined Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, the Everett Legislative delegation, and local leaders to highlight An Act to Promote Housing Choiceslegislation filed by Governor Baker in February that calls for targeted zoning reform to advance new housing production in Massachusetts and support the Administration’s goal to produce 135,000 new housing units by 2025.
“Communities as diverse as Everett in Greater Boston and Williamstown in the Berkshires know that Massachusetts has a housing crisis, and the lack of affordable and available housing is a serious problem for the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We have filed An Act to Promote Housing Choices to jumpstart the construction of housing in every region of the Commonwealth by empowering communities to build the housing they need where they need it. We will continue to work with our legislative colleagues to swiftly take this crucial first step.”
“While our economy continues to grow, too many families, businesses and communities continue to struggle with Massachusetts’ housing crisis,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “Governor Baker and I remain committed to leveraging every tool at our disposal to advance the production of housing across the Commonwealth, from funding affordable housing development to pursuing legislative reform through Housing Choice, so more communities like Everett can remain affordable to current and future residents.”
Today’s event at The Pioneer celebrated Everett’s commitment to boosting the production of housing viable for a wide range of incomes, with a particular focus on transit-oriented development to leverage the City’s extensive bus network and close proximity to employers in both Everett and Boston. In 2016, Everett became the first community in the Commonwealth outside of Boston to add a dedicated bus lane, leading to a significant reduction in commute times. These efforts earned Everett designation as a Housing Choice community, in recognition for the city’s success in adopting best practices and increasing the housing stock by more than 3% over the last five years.
Local community and business leaders including Antonio Amaya Iraheta of La Comunidad, a nonprofit organization supporting Everett’s Latin American community, Marjorie White, President of Everett Co-operative Bank, and Rafael Mares of The Neighborhood Developers, a Chelsea-based community development corporation leading the affordable housing development at St Therese in Everett, joined Mayor DeMaria in endorsing the legislation.
The legislative proposal will enable cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices related to housing production by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. While this legislation will lower the voting threshold to change zoning for all communities in the Commonwealth, it does not require cities and towns to make any of these changes. With the proposed simple majority threshold, municipalities that pursue rezoning efforts including those enabling transit-oriented or downtown-oriented new housing, would gain approval if they achieve more than 50 percent of the vote, as opposed to the current super majority of more than 66 percent. Massachusetts is currently one of only a few states to require a supermajority to change local zoning.
Zoning changes that promote best practices for housing growth that would qualify for the simple majority threshold include:
                 Building mixed-use, multi-family, and starter homes, and adopting 40R “Smart Growth” zoning in town centers and near transit.
                 Allowing the development of accessory dwelling units, or “in-law” apartments.
                 Approving Smart Growth or Starter Homes districts that put housing near existing activity centers.
                 Granting increased density through a special permit process.
                 Allowing for the transfer of development rights and enacting natural resource protection zoning.
                 Reducing parking requirements and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes.
This legislation also includes a provision, added by the Joint Committee on Housing last session, that would reduce the voting threshold for a special permit issued by a local permit granting authority to a simple majority vote, for certain multi-family or mixed-use projects with at least 10 percent affordable units in locations near transit or, in centers of commercial activity within a municipality.
“The housing crisis facing Massachusetts is the greatest threat to our economic success and it is especially acute in cities like Everett, which make up the inner core of Greater Boston,” said Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy. “This administration is committed to confronting this crisis and will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the Legislature to pass Housing Choice, in order to empower communities to advance the housing production they need to grow and thrive far into the future.”
Today’s show of support built on recent bipartisan endorsements from officials and organizations including former Secretaries of Economic Development from the Romney, Patrick, and Baker administrations. The bill was formally discussed at the May 14th hearing of the Joint Committee on Housing. The legislation is part of the administration’s Housing Choice Initiative, which provides incentives, technical assistance, and capital grant funding to encourage new housing production that meets the long-term needs of the Commonwealth’s growing, and aging, population.
“Our families, seniors, workforce, individuals with disabilities, and vulnerable populations have diverse housing needs, and today’s market is not meeting them. Housing that our residents can afford is a crucial resource and An Act to Promote Housing Choices will create the tools we need to promote new housing development for those across incomes,” said Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Janelle Chan. “We are proud of the coalition we’ve built in support of this legislation and the investments we’ve made in affordable housing, community development, and public housing to benefit the many communities that contribute to our strong, inclusive Commonwealth.”
“People want to live in this great community and I am proud that here in Everett we have issued the third highest number of new multi-family housing permits in the Commonwealth, many of which are transit oriented developments. However, we must do more,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “Governor Baker’s legislation will expedite the construction of ‘in-law’ apartments and accessory dwelling units, increase density through special permits and will cut parking and dimensional requirements. As a result, I believe we can substantially reduce the number of unsafe, overcrowded illegal units, by creating safe and affordable high quality housing for current and future residents.”     
“The Housing Choice Initiative is critical for our constituency in the city of Everett,” said Antonio Amaya Iraheta, Executive Director of La Comunidad. “Across the city there are a lot of illegal units. It is very dangerous living 2 or 3 families in one or two bedroom apartments. The Governor’s bill will bring a huge benefit and better condition of living, building more housing units in the City of Everett and across the state.”
“While recent development in Everett has been impressive and provided increased housing for the community, too many opportunities have been missed due to outdated zoning provisions,” said President of Everett Co-Operative Bank Marjorie White. “Modification of local zoning ordinances has been a cumbersome and lengthy process. This legislation will enable local officials to assess their communities’ housing needs and enact responsible, thoughtful zoning changes to meet them.”
“The need for more affordable housing in the Greater Boston area has reached drastic proportions. Zoning directly impacts how much housing is produced and in turn how much our region is paying for rent,” said Rafael Mares, Executive Director of The Neighborhood Developers. “The Governor's Housing Choice legislation will empower local leaders to develop better policies that will help people in our communities find the home they deserve.”
“Housing security has long been a critical concern for Everett residents, and even more so today as our community continues to grow and evolve,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. “I would like to thank Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito for making this a top priority issue for their Administration and committing to create more housing options for people of all incomes. I look forward to continue working together along with my legislative colleagues and municipal leaders to craft a bill that will adequately address our Commonwealth’s diverse housing needs.”
The event also highlighted Everett’s recent Affordable Rental Housing Award, announced by Governor Baker in Swampscott this July. The award will fund the first of two phases to rehabilitate the former St. Therese Parish into two developments for low-income and formerly homeless seniors featuring onsite services.
The Baker-Polito Administration has shown a deep commitment to increasing the production of housing across income levels. Since 2015, the administration has invested more than $1 billion in affordable housing, resulting in the production and preservation of more than 17,000 housing units, including 15,000 affordable units. In 2018, Governor Baker signed the largest housing bond bill in Massachusetts history, committing more than $1.8 billion to the future of affordable housing production and preservation. The Baker-Polito Administration has also advanced the development of more than 11,000 mixed-income housing units through the successful MassWorks Infrastructure Program, reformed the Housing Development Incentive Program, and worked with communities to implement smart-growth development and planning efforts.

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