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Real Estate Industry Lining Up Behind Healey In Governor’s Race, Campaign Contributions Show

Massachusetts residents will vote for a new governor in less than three weeks, and it appears the real estate industry is overwhelmingly supporting the Democratic frontrunner, Maura Healey.

Healey, the state attorney general, has received nearly 12 times more money from real estate professionals than her Republican opponent, Geoff Diehl, according to a Bisnow analysis of campaign finance reports dating back to May. 

Healey has a big lead in the race, with FiveThirtyEight’s latest polling average showing her 24 percentage points ahead of Diehl, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump

A Healey victory would represent a change in party control from outgoing Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, but real estate executives say it wouldn’t represent a dramatic shift on their key interests. 

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is leading the polls in the race to be the next governor.

“From a regulatory standpoint, I think [Healey’s] priorities are the same kinds of priorities that the industry cares about,” said HYM Investment Group CEO Tom O’Brien, adding that his company has supported Healey for years. “Her priority is to create more housing. Her priority is to improve the transportation system.”

Healey received around $90K from 148 real estate professionals in the state from May through September, according to Bisnow’s analysis of campaign finance reports. 

The company with the most employees contributing to Healey’s campaign was Newmark, which had 16 professionals donate $14.5K, all in July. A Newmark spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Redgate had the second-highest contribution total, with its employees giving $9,800 to Healey, followed by Marcus Partners, The Davis Cos. and HYM.

Diehl received around $7K in campaign contributions from 13 smaller developers and real estate business owners, according to Bisnow’s analysis.  

Last month, Healey and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, her running mate, released their joint housing plan, which is centered around developing more housing, especially around MBTA stations. 

“We need more housing,” Healey said in the candidates’ first debate last week. "We need housing stock across this state for housing across various income levels. We need to drive down the cost of transportation and fix our public transportation system."  

As part of this effort, the running mates said they plan to continue implementing Baker’s MBTA Communities zoning requirements, which require communities with train stations to allow multifamily development. Healey and Driscoll’s plan also set a 2025 goal for the state to build new units to meet the housing demand, and they aim to break down additional local zoning barriers that have barred housing development in the past.

Massachusetts Rep. Geoffrey Diehl on the 2010 campaign trail for Plymouth District state representative.

“We read the housing proposal that she put out just a few weeks ago, and we see that it is really, really solid,” O’Brien said. “She's basically pledging to be very active around creating avenues for housing to be proposed and permitted, particularly around MBTA corridors and key transportation corridors.”

Colleen Fonseca, executive director at the Builders of Color Coalition, said she thinks Healey has garnered support for her housing plan because she collaborated with those in the industry to put it together.

“There definitely seems to be a lot of consideration and thought being put into housing,” Fonseca said. “You typically don't come up with a housing plan unless there are multiple conversations that you're having with stakeholders to really inform how that report is designed. I would assume that Healey and her administration have been likely more active in reaching out to the real estate development community, especially as part of putting together this report.” 

Diehl hasn’t released the type of detailed housing plan that Healey did, but his campaign website says he wants to “make housing options more accessible and affordable.” A policy blueprint page on his campaign website says that he would repeal the MBTA Communities regulations. 

The Republican candidate expanded on his opposition to the MBTA Communities law in a Banker & Tradesman column in August, citing density and lack of local government participation as his main issues with the bill. He also said that developers are the only ones that would benefit from the multifamily zoning and that local resources would be drained with added density.

“Streamlined permitting is often cited as a major need in order to jump-start the creation of more housing,” Diehl wrote in the column. "I support efficiency and streamlined service for permitting and other government functions. But I also favor local control over the process." 

McDermott, Quilty & Miller LLP partner Joseph Hanley, a Boston-based land use attorney, said that Healey’s housing efforts as attorney general and her ongoing friendly relationship with Baker could have also played into the amount of support she has received. 

“Maura Healey is smart, practical and open-minded, willing to collaborate but also make tough decisions,” Hanley said. “Like Gov. Baker, with whom she had a very good relationship and does not shy away from, Maura Healey is correctly focused on tackling local zoning barriers for future growth and expansion.”

The Procopio Cos. CEO Mike Procopio said that, in terms of the housing policies put forth by both candidates, he hopes to see strong policies and not “headline policies” that are well-intentioned but usually don't become legislation.

National Development's Jessica Buonopane, Procopio Cos.' Mike Procopio and Cube 3's Brian O'Connor speak at a Bisnow event.

“We hope to see a really clear rule book around what we do and how we develop,” Procopio said. “The Baker administration was very efficient at cutting the red tape, streamlining the process, trying to approach every situation with the end goal in view — in this case, how we bring more housing online.”

Procopio said that he doesn’t want to see the same unpredictability that is unfolding in Boston under Mayor Michelle Wu take place on the state level.

“You’re seeing that to some extent unfolding in Boston because of how much some of the apple cart is being overturned, whether it's the BPDA or ZBA,” he said. “Everything the Wu administration is doing is very well-intentioned but creating a little bit of unpredictability.”

The coming years will likely bring economic headwinds for the real estate industry, Procopio said, but he hopes the next governor will bring forward good policy while keeping the predictability from the Baker administration. 

“Healey and Driscoll are experienced politicians,” Procopio said. "I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I doubt that they’d rock the boat from a housing perspective in a way that would be significantly negative."

National Development Managing Partner Ted Tye said in an emailed statement that he believes there are differences between the candidates but that their positions aren’t fully clear yet. He also said that the MBTA Communities law is crucial to the development of housing in the state, and he opposes the legislative effort to pass a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act

“Particularly in the housing sector, any efforts to approve rent control, TOPA, transfer taxes or overly aggressive regulatory changes will hurt housing production,” Tye said. “We need to strongly consider some version of the MBTA Communities proposal, zoning reform and government incentives that will help to spur development of the much-needed housing. Charlie Baker has understood this and hopefully our next governor will as well.”