Baker pushes $35m more for economic recovery package
Bill also includes governor’s housing, zoning proposals
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday proposed a $35 million increase and other changes in an economic recovery package he filed pre-COVID-19.
The expanded proposal, which now has a price tag of $275 million and came up for a legislative hearing Friday, will bolster housing, community development, and business competitiveness in an economic landscape dramatically altered by COVID-19, he said.
“By funding more affordable housing, implementing critical zoning reform, stabilizing neighborhoods, and supporting minority-owned businesses with record levels of funding, these proposed changes will bring critical relief and promote equity across Massachusetts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Baker at a State House press conference.
Baker also proposed some other changes that will reallocate funding to communities like Gateway Cities that have been harder hit by the virus. Baker is proposing allocating an additional $15 million for neighborhood stabilization (for a total of $40 million) in an effort to bring affordable housing units back on the market.
The legislation also includes language from Baker’s housing bill, which aims to add 135,000 new housing units by 2025.
Massachusetts’ home prices have grown faster than in any other state in the country, and rents have doubled within some communities over the past 20 years. In 2017, more than 30 percent of all households – and more than 50 percent of households making less than $100,000 – were paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation, officials said.
“The housing crisis won’t be solved by one legislative package, but this is a good start,” said Mike Kennealy, the governor’s secretary of housing and economic development.
The bill will would allow municipalities to change zoning with a simple majority of the city council, rather than the current two-thirds.
Baker pointed to Salem where any housing project has to get an 8-3 vote from City Council. In February, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll’s effort to redevelop vacant historic buildings failed during a 7-4 vote, something Baker said wouldn’t have happened with a simple majority.
Baker said the biggest pushback to his zoning law changes has come from people fearful of change. “In many instances, it’s a difficult or scary topic. It’s hard to get new housing built and that needs to be fixed,” he said.Baker’s housing bill language included in this economic development package closely mirrors legislation he filed in late 2017, which never came up for a vote in the House or Senate despite a broad coalition of support.
Asked why he didn’t call a vote, the speaker said, “We were working with various groups at the time. We thought we could get to a finalization and when we got to a finalization unfortunately we were in informal sessions at that point so it was what it was.”