Stand-alone housing secretariat moves forward
Senate approves Healey reorganization; House yet to act
GOV. MAURA HEALEY’S plan to create a new Cabinet-level post on housing got the green light from the Senate on Thursday, bringing the administration one step closer to an adjustment it says will help address the state’s severe housing production and affordability crisis.
Splitting the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development in two has been an early priority for the new governor, who hits her 100th day in office on April 15. The administration has already started the search process for a housing secretary, Healey said.
Creating the new Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, and renaming the existing secretariat as the Executive Office of Economic Development, is a “first step in what I expect will be a continuing collaboration with the Legislature, municipal officials, and key stakeholders throughout the Commonwealth to increase the production of new housing over the long term,” Healey wrote in a letter accompanying the reorganization bill.
The pitch has been well-received by lawmakers and advocates alike over the past months. In remarks before the 39-0 vote approving the change, Sen. Lydia Edwards, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Housing, said she hoped the separation would give the Healey administration a “tool” to create “integrated, equitable communities.”
Edwards and Sen. Nick Collins, also of Boston and co-chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, recognized the severity of the state’s housing shortfall in their remarks.
“With the housing crisis before us, we know that the efforts that we’ll be making here on the budget this year, and hopefully in our economic development bill, will continue to foster more housing construction that people can afford,” Collins said.
Every governor, to some extent, reorganizes the Cabinet structure. Housing has bounced between a stand-alone secretariat, a department inside a broader division, or part of a combined Cabinet-level office.
The new housing office will absorb the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, the manufactured homes commission, the commission of Indian affairs, and the American and Canadian French Cultural Exchange Commission.
Filed under Article 87 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts state Constitution, the reorganization bill does not need both chambers to approve it, but agreement would speed the process along. The State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee held a hearing on the matter in March, featuring enthusiastic support from legislators and housing organizations alike. They reported it favorably out of committee earlier this week for approval votes from the House and Senate.If the House of Representatives, which took no action on the bill on Thursday, votes in favor in the near future, the bill will take effect 30 days after that vote. Restructuring orders under Article 87 mostly require that neither chamber votes to disapprove the change, so the bill would be enacted 60 days after it was filed and take effect 30 days after that (May 30) if the House does nothing.
Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll anticipated that possibility earlier this year, predicting a housing secretary could be in place by early summer if the full legislative clock had to wind down.