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Affordable Housing Leaders Say Healey Proposals Would Help Fix State’s Shortage

As Massachusetts’ housing crisis worsens, the Healey-Driscoll administration has put out a number of proposals in its first year in office that industry experts say could alleviate the issue for future generations.

Colliers' Jeanne Pinado, MassHousing's Chrystal Kornegay and WinnCos.' Larry Curtis

Housing production throughout the state has lagged. A group of 15 municipalities represented by the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition is well behind its target pace for a goal it set in 2015 to produce 185,000 new housing units by 2030. It had built roughly 43,000 units as of last year, according to the Boston Foundation's 2023 the Greater Boston Housing Report Card.

Housing leaders who spoke at Bisnow's Greater Boston Affordable Housing Summit last week said the policies that the administration advanced this year, including a historic bill and executive actions, could be key to ramping up housing production throughout the state.

In October, Gov. Maura Healey unveiled her $4.1B Affordable Homes Act, the largest housing bond bill in the state's history, more than double that of former Gov. Charlie Baker's $1.8B bill from 2018. The bill aims to address the housing shortage and help fund a mix of affordable housing options across the state.

"The moneys in the housing bond bill that are propagated by the governor, lieutenant governor and legislature will play a key role in solving the problem," WinnCos. President Larry Curtis said at the event, held at the Hilton Boston Park Plaza.

The bill is a mix of spending, policies and actions that would help fund or create more than 40,000 homes, including 22,000 homes for low-income households and 12,000 homes for middle-income households. The bill is working its way through the state legislature, mostly recently being referred to the Joint Committee on Housing. 

Curtis, whose affordable housing development firm has built over 130 projects across the country, said the bill would be impactful because it sets aside money for a mix of affordable housing, including workforce housing, which he argued the state is in desperate need of. Across the country, there has been a shortage of workforce housing, which is typically defined as affordable to those earning between 60% to 120% of the area median income.

"The marketplace does not have housing for those doing everything right," Curtis said. "We are fortunate to live in a state where the current administration — Gov. Healey, Lt. Gov. Driscoll, the legislature — understands that we need affordable housing and workforce housing. We can do both, and we need to do both."

The Momentum Fund, created as part of the bill, would begin with $50M to support "large-scale, mixed-income multifamily development." Chrystal Kornegay, CEO of the state's housing investment and banking arm, MassHousing, said the fund would help incentivize market-rate housing developers to add affordable housing to their projects.

Sullivan & Worcester's Jennifer Schultz, Maloney Development LLC's Felicia Jacques, MKA Architecture's Michael Kim, Bald Hill Builders' Matt Grosshandler, The Community Builders' David Valecillos and Housing Opportunities Unlimited's Susan Connelly.

"In order to actually address the affordable housing crisis, every development has to have some kind of affordable housing in it for folks of different ranges," Kornegay said. "When we think about affordable housing, we think about it along the whole spectrum."

The bond bill isn't Healey's only push to provide more housing. In June, her administration launched the Massachusetts Community Climate Bank, the state's first green housing bank that started with $50M in seed funding. The climate bank will be used to provide low-cost capital to produce more clean energy and efficient technology for projects that are creating and preserving affordable housing.

"Another focus, particularly for this administration, is around climate and how that impacts our future," Kornegay said. "MassHousing has the honor of incubating the state's first housing bank, and we're going to be making investments on behalf of the administration into retrofitting affordable housing, but also working with the administration and putting the money into what it takes to actually build affordable housing that meets our decarbonization goals."

Massachusetts was the No. 41 state for housing production last year, according to a Construction Coverage report. The state ranked at the bottom for housing permits issued in 2022. Compared to the national average of five per 1,000 residents, Massachusetts only saw 2.5, according to the Greater Boston Housing Report Card. 

David Valecillos, senior development project manager at The Community Builders, said that policies like the Affordable Homes Act will be important to addressing the state's housing crisis.

Dimeo Construction's Kevin Ferreira, Related Beal's Nick Boehm, Stantec Architecture's Aeron Hodges, Trinity Financial's Dan Drazen and Madison Park Development Corp.'s Leslie Reid.

"For workforce housing and affordable housing in general, we need bold legislation," Valecillos said. "I think the housing bill needs to pass, and I think that would be a great step in the right direction."

Felicia Jacques, executive vice president at Maloney Development, said the housing bill would be of great benefit to cities like Worcester that have attracted younger and wealthier residents in recent years. The city has seen an influx in economic development, most notably from the state's biotech sector. Jacques said that because of this growth, the city could use the policies in the Affordable Homes Act.

"Worcester seems poised to be able to really exploit some of the policy objectives that are being put out in this housing bond bill, which we are all very excited about," she said.

On Tuesday, the Worcester City Council voted in favor of allowing accessory dwelling units, additional units built on residential properties that are either attached or separate from the existing home, to be built by right throughout the city, the Telegram & Gazette reported. In Healey's housing bill, ADUs would be allowed throughout the state, with an estimated 8,000 to be built over five years.

Rockland Trust's Richard Muraida, Rode Architects' Ben Wan, Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp.'s Moddie Turay, CHAPA's Whitney Demetrius and Massachusetts Housing Partnership's Dana LeWinter.

"With accessory dwelling units, we're opening up opportunity to make some income or maybe have your family live close by or caregivers," said Dana LeWinter, chief of public and community engagement for the Massachusetts Housing Partnership. "It really does create opportunities for a lot of different people."

As the Healey administration looks to make its own dent in the state’s housing crisis, it has also been supporting the implementation of a major housing law passed by the previous governor in 2021: the MBTA Communities Law. Cities and towns have been passing new zoning plans ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline for the law, which aims to boost housing production around transit stops, and Healey has doubled down on promises to withhold state money to communities that don't comply. 

"The MBTA communities was to say, 'You have to create multifamily housing in order to create more opportunity [and] to unlock that opportunity in your municipality,'" LeWinter said. "We think really looking at how we build, what we allow and the opportunities that come from it is something that we're all moving towards."

Moddie Turay, CEO of Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp., said that the law is a carrot-and-stick approach that will be interesting to watch play out in the next couple of years as more communities enact zoning changes.

"We have an affordable housing problem in Boston, but we also have a market-rate housing problem in Boston," Turay said. "We've got a workforce housing problem in Boston. We've got a preservation of affordable housing problem in Boston. And so I think we have to solve like all of these problems. I think the direction that we're going in is pretty interesting."