Making housing a Beacon Hill priority

It’s the quintessential housing story for many Boston area residents in their twenties and thirties. An apartment with three bedrooms, each commanding $1,100-plus, one bathroom, questionable maintenance, lead paint, and a broken dryer somewhere down in the basement. The landlord is absentee, or aloof at best, flagrantly violating tenant rights and jacking up your rent while cutting corners at worst. If you’re buying, it’s even worse.

As the Boston Globe‘s Shirley Leung writes, housing is on the minds of elected officials, but hasn’t been a priority. The triple whammy facing area renters and would-be buyers: insufficient housing supply, a lack of affordable options, and inequity in access to housing.

It’s not as if local leaders aren’t trying. At a recent Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh asked the business community to support Gov. Charlie Baker’s Housing Choice bill, to encourage developers to build middle-class housing, and to take a stance against displacement.

“We also need owners and investors to take a step back and consider the human impacts of their actions,” he said. Walsh’s administration has created 31,000 new homes and has a goal of 69,000 by 2030, with 20 percent being income restricted.

For people searching for apartments now, it’s all of little help. With little supply to work with, the going rate is often $2,300 for a one-bedroom, multiplied by at least three for first month, last, and a security deposit. God help you if there’s a broker fee, too. It’s little wonder that questions about rent control are popping up in Boston City Council candidate forums.

Meanwhile, for buyers, Leung writes, the median price of a Boston area single-family home is $640,000.  

According to the Greater Boston Housing Report Card of 2019, issued by The Boston Foundation, there’s not enough housing, and the housing that exists is expensive. Metropolitan Boston is now the fourth most expensive area in the US.

Baker’s housing production legislation revolves around zoning, or, more specifically, allowing a majority vote to pass housing-related zoning changes in municipalities, where currently a two-thirds supermajority is required. It didn’t pass in 2018 because many housing groups were late at throwing their support behind it. Massachusetts is currently one of only a few states to require a supermajority to change local zoning.

Former state economic and housing development chiefs Jay Ash, Ranch Kimball, Dan O’Connell, and Greg Bialecki all support the bill, which is meant to bolster the already existing Housing Choice Initiative, a plan to build 135,000 new housing units by 2025.

But the bill is still hung up in the Joint Committee on Housing, where House chairman Kevin Honan is waiting for his colleagues who are concerned about overdevelopment to give their blessing to move it out.

Meanwhile, his Senate counterpart, Brendan Crighton, is interested in adding a change that would require towns to have multi-family zoning near train stations.

With education and transit bills hanging heavily over legislators’ heads, it’s hard to see how housing becomes a top priority right now. That would need the political will of Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka. When Baker said in September that he’d like to pass the bill this fall, DeLeo told reporters he wouldn’t commit to that, but was planning to discuss the issue with local officials, while noting many already in favor of the bill. DeLeo reiterated the long-held opinion that the bill doesn’t go far enough on some issues.

Some opponents want to see more resources directed toward low-income rental assistance and an expansion of Boston and Cambridge’s inclusionary zoning. The bill has always been centered on production, not affordability or tenant issues, with the only bone tossed to affordable housing advocates being that it would be easier for developers to get community approval if their projects include at least 10 percent of affordable units in locations near transit or areas with commercial activity.

Mayors like Salem’s Kim Driscoll and Easthampton’s Nicole LaChapelle are still on board, citing the high cost of housing to seniors on fixed incomes and young families.

Baker is sticking to his guns and calling the bill a reasonable place to land. “Some people would like less, some people would like more,” he said a recent briefing. “I’m going to play Goldilocks here and say it’s just right.”

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

House leaders opt to put surplus funds in the state’s rainy day fund rather than return them to taxpayers via an increase in the tax exemption for dependent children. (State House News)

Gov. Charlie Baker waves off the idea that his administration has tried to hide anything connected to the scandal at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, saying if there are documents the Legislature wants that they haven’t received “all they have to do is ask.” (Boston Herald) He also defends a top aide, Mindy d’Arbeloff, who told others investigating what went wrong at the RMV to have a meeting to discuss the issues rather than sorting them out via email. (MassLive)

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban the sale or distribution of balloons filled with any gas lighter than air. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston is pulling $248 million in pension investments from a company after its CEO made lewd comments about women at a conference. (Boston Globe)

A student at Framingham High School was blamed for a racist Instagram post that circulated at the school, but now officials are saying that the student’s account was hacked and someone else was responsible. (MetroWest Daily News)

The Herald News has a photo essay of Fall River’s revolving door of mayors, with seven in 12 years. 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, died at age 68. (Washington Post)

President Trump lashed out at critics of his Syria moves as a majority of Republicans joined Democrats in a House resolution condemning his policy. (New York Times

Trump tweeted a photo of Nancy Pelosi at a White House meeting, declaring her to be “unhinged” and “sick,” but the shot of the House speaker standing and lecturing Trump and a line-up of his male minions is going viral as a sign of her strength and Pelosi has made it her Twitter cover photo. (Washington Post)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in an op-ed column, slams a proposed Trump administration rule that she says would make it harder to bring cases alleging racial discriminaton in home lending. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Fairhaven Planning Board met this month with representatives of Crow Island’s new owner to hear a request to rezone the property from single-use residence to mixed-use. (Standard-Times) 

The 51-story tower long slated to rise above South Station in Boston could begin going up before the end of the year. (Boston Globe)

Young parents are unable to join the workforce because of the scarcity of affordable childcare in Boston, according to a new report. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Hampshire College in Amherst is “radicalizing its transdisciplinary commitment,” doing away with majors, departments, and curricular divisions. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Jessica Bresler and Leo Beletsky of Northeastern say it’s time for the state to embrace safe injection sites. (CommonWealth)

Elizabeth Warren faced lots of heat in Tuesday’s debate for refusing to detail the taxes that would pay for Medicare for all. (Boston Globe) WBUR looks at what such a transformation would mean for four Massachusetts households. 

Baystate Health eliminates 20 positions at its Noble Hospital in Westfield. Of the 15 nursing positions being eliminated, all but one of the employees are being shifted to another part of the hospital. (MassLive)

Dianne Anderson is stepping down as CEO of Lawrence General Hospital. (Eagle-Tribune)

ARTS/CULTURE

Cambridge artists are fighting against displacement after Green Street Studios recently announced its impending closure. (DigBoston) 

TRANSPORTATION 

A Berkshire Eagle editorial lauds the Big Rail vision of Jim Aloisi and Stan Rosenberg that they outlined in a CommonWealth op-ed

Family-owned Boston Harbor Cruises is sold to a Chicago ferry company controlled by a private equity firm. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Opponents of a natural gas compressor station proposed for the Fore River Basin were dealt two major blows Wednesday when a state adjudicator recommended the approval of a waterways license and a wetlands permit for the project, triggering the start of the final state review in the approval process. (Patriot Ledger) 

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Wynn Resorts brings in a new team of top managers at the Encore Boston Harbor casino, which opened in June. (CommonWealth)

A Holyoke marijuana firm called Positronic Farms prepares a bankruptcy filing after its board resigns. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

John Nardozzi, the accountant for former senator Brian Joyce, is convicted of tax fraud and a series of other charges. (MassLive

The Supreme Judicial Court overturned a second-degree murder conviction after concluding the trial judge, Janet Sanders, botched the handling of the case (Dorchester Reporter)

The Cape and Islands district attorney’s office says Barnstable and State Police are investigating an apparent homicide that occurred Wednesday afternoon in Hyannis. (Cape Cod Times) 

A 61-year-old Dracut man has been indicted by a grand jury and will appear in superior court on charges of sexually assaulting a child at his home. (Lowell Sun)

MEDIA

Media critic Dan Kennedy thinks cable news networks are letting Amy Klobuchar have her moment in the spotlight with Mayor Pete Buttigeg. But does it matter? (Media Nation)