$4B housing bill worries some local officials, is a ‘necessity’ others say

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The state’s housing secretary says Gov. Maura Healey’s $4B bond bill will help the state get out of its, “housing crisis,” but critics blasted provisions in the legislation to boost multifamily housing and allow local taxes on homes sold over at $1 million and over.

The massive bond bill, according to testimony heard by the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets on Tuesday, would allow for the creation of 40,000 new homes and the rehabilitation of 12,000 more.

Secretary of Housing Ed Augustus told the committee that solving the state’s 200,000-residence shortfall will require a “Herculean” level of effort, but that the governor’s bond bill takes huge stride in that direction.

“The Affordable Homes Act will have a significant impact on the future of housing across the Commonwealth,” Augustus said. “Every dollar in this bill supports families, seniors and renters struggling to access affordable housing. Every dollar prioritizes our state’s climate and decarbonization goals. Every dollar will help lift us out of our housing crisis.”

First offered by Gov. Maura Healey last October, the bill was previously heard by the Joint Committee on Housing and reported out favorably.

According to the governor’s office, the bonding bill is a “big, bold comprehensive package of spending and policy actions aimed at striking at the root causes of housing unaffordability while making progress on the state’s climate goals.”

The bill offers $1.6 billion to support repairs, rehabs, and modernization at the state’s 43,000 public housing units, including $150 million to decarbonize the public housing stock.

It would send $800 million into an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $425 million into a Housing Stabilization and Investment Fund, $200 million into a Housing Innovations Fund, $100 million into a Mixed-Income Housing Fund, $70 million toward a Facilities Consolidation Fund, and a further $50 million to a Momentum Fund.

An additional $275 million would be invested in Sustainable and Green Housing Initiatives, and $200 million in the HousingWorks Infrastructure Program.

The bill also comes with “28 substantive policy changes or initiatives, three executive orders and two targeted tax credits,” according to Healey’s office.

“This legislation is an economic winner for our state. It’s an economic necessity for our residents, our communities, and our businesses. The bottom line is: we can’t wait, we have to act with urgency and at scale. Our residents, our communities and our employers are depending on it,” Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll told the committee.

Speaking at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event in February, the governor said the state is short of housing stock by about 200,000 units. Healey has said that shortfall is “the biggest challenge we face” and that solving it is “our highest priority as an administration.”

UMass Donahue Institute economic analysis of the bill estimates it will generate nearly 30,000 jobs, $25 billion in economic impact, and $800 million in tax revenue over the next 5 years.

Despite the undisputed need for more houses in the Bay State, not everyone is completely on board with the plan as written.

Gerard Frechette, vice-chair for the City of Lowell’s Planning Board, told the committee that communities like his would suffer under some of the changes proposed.

“The overall goals are admirable and worthy of consideration,” he said, but a plan to lower the square footage requirement to turn a single-family home into a multi-family dwelling would “have a detrimental effect on various areas” of Lowell.

“I ask that you reconsider the language,” of the relevant section, Frechette told the committee.

“This wording will most likely encourage the conversion of some of the most affordable single-family homes for homeownership into investor owned two-family homes in many of the neighborhoods in the city,” he said. “Already, 58% of our housing stock is rental stock.”

Virginia Crocker Timmins, vice chair of the Chelmsford Select Board, expressed similar concerns for her town if that rule stands.

“It not only obliviates single-family housing zoning throughout the state, but it completely usurps the rights of each municipality to set criteria for this type of usage that’s tailored to that municipality,” she said.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance called the bill “counterproductive” and questioned a provision allowing cities and towns to set local option real estate tax rates between 0.5% and 2% for homes sold at or more than $1 million.

“Governor Healey is 100% off the mark on this proposal. This bill will not bring down the cost of housing in our state and will only exacerbate the decline in economic competitiveness we’ve seen in the last several years which is causing a massive flood of people and wealth out of our state,” the group’s spokesman said in a statement.

The committee took no action on the bill on Tuesday.

Gov. Maura Healey (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald, File)