Housing affordability is one of the top issues Maura and Kim hear about from residents and business owners across the state. In the average household budget, housing is the single largest living expense category. More expensive housing means residents have less to spend on food, health care, transportation, and other necessities, and it holds people back from building wealth. Our current housing shortage has driven up home prices to record levels, often in communities that can least afford it. Massachusetts provides abundant job opportunities, world-class health care, and a top tier education system. Yet, current residents and their families fear that they can no longer afford to live within the communities where they work and send their children to school.
Maura and Kim know that affordable, accessible, and well-maintained housing is critical for the physical health and mental well-being of our residents. In particular, they understand that renters, children and older adults, people of color, and low-income families are at an especially high risk for experiencing housing-related health conditions. Maura and Kim want to ensure that housing is available at all income levels, especially for our public sector workers, such as teachers, public safety workers, and others that may be currently priced out of local markets.
Housing prices also threaten the long-term economic competitiveness of our Commonwealth. The average fair market rent in Massachusetts is nearly 50% higher than the national average. Massachusetts employers struggle to recruit and retain high-performing employees, which is further exacerbated by employees’ inability to find housing. If the current trend continues, Massachusetts will struggle to attract new residents, while driving out longtime residents who form the fabric of our communities.
Maura and Kim are deeply committed to tackling the housing crisis using an equity lens and creating a Commonwealth where every resident has a place to call home where they feel safe and secure. Their Administration will prioritize dramatically increasing production, preserving existing housing stock, supporting individuals and families struggling with homelessness, and fully harnessing the power of housing to create economic mobility for all.
TAKE IMMEDIATE STEPS TO ALLEVIATE THE CRISIS
The housing market, as it stands, is unsustainable. As of July 2022, one study found that Massachusetts has a shortage of 108,157 homes. While Maura and Kim believe that we need long-term strategies, they also understand that a multi-pronged approach is necessary to ease people’s housing burdens now.
The Healey-Driscoll Plan
The Healey-Driscoll Administration will establish a Secretary of Housing position to lead the growth of housing in the Commonwealth. The current Secretariat of Housing and Economic Development structure consolidates two separate policy areas under one post. By adding a Secretary of Housing to her Cabinet, Maura will prioritize housing as a key driver of economic growth and increase focus and resources on housing production and preservation. The elevation of the Secretary will also allow for more cross-disciplinary collaboration within the Cabinet to better connect housing to education, transportation, public safety and climate. Bolstered by support from the Governor’s Office, which will make housing a priority, the Secretary will be responsible for implementation of a coordinated housing policy with a goal of working with local officials, state agencies, existing housing stakeholders, and public and private sector housing developers to meet our housing needs in a manner that enhances communities and expands opportunities.
The Healey-Driscoll Administration will also establish a state-led pro-housing campaign to educate residents about our housing shortage and advocate for the creation of enhanced housing options in the Commonwealth. This effort will include public advocacy, training and education for community members and business leaders, toolkits and technical assistance for local officials, along with support for establishing local and regional housing production goals.
The immediate need for housing provides an opportunity for Massachusetts to review and simplify the production process. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will look for ways to streamline state permitting, address utility connection delays and refine the housing process for developers to apply for and receive funding from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The Administration will also consider reforms to current practices for obtaining state funding for affordable housing, including increasing the number of applications each developer can submit per year. While Massachusetts values thoughtful housing production, we do not want our developers bogged down by paperwork or lengthy delays at a time when housing production is desperately needed.
Every community across the Commonwealth is grappling with housing shortages and rising costs, but each community has its own issues contributing to the crisis. Rural developments need increased funding and support for infrastructure and utilities. Public housing developments need capital investments for maintenance, safety upgrades, and modernization. Naturally occurring affordable housing requires funding for acquisition and maintenance to keep them affordable on the market. Communities on the Cape and in the Berkshires experience additional housing pressures due to tourism. Gateway Cities struggle to keep rents stable as demand for their housing increases. Western Massachusetts’s housing needs are different from those of Eastern Massachusetts, in part due to aging housing stock. Maura and Kim will empower communities to enact local policies that best address their own, unique housing challenges, while encouraging regional cooperation and technical assistance. This may include local rent stabilization policies, zoning reforms to allow housing at greater densities, specific housing production supports, and more. Maura and Kim recognize that one size does not fit all and will help municipalities be creative in their solutions to tackle housing, as well as building a larger regional and statewide strategy. They envision a Massachusetts where all residents have access to safe and affordable housing options, regardless of the region in which they live.
Massachusetts has an opportunity to prioritize investments in housing with the influx of federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other vehicles. The Legislature has recognized this opportunity and already allocated significant funds to this end, including $885M in the FY23 Budget and $595M from ARPA. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will work to quickly deploy the housing funds that have already been allocated and will work with the Legislature to secure additional funds for affordable housing production and preservation with the next round of ARPA funding.
While funding from ARPA has given Massachessetts an opportunity to address critical housing issues exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic, many of our Commonwealth’s housing problems are long-standing issues that require long-term solutions and continued efforts. To that end, the Healey-Driscoll Administration will seek opportunities for partnership and support from the federal government to meet our state’s housing needs. They will advocate for Massachusetts to receive expanded federal resources and increase flexibility in administering those resources so they best suit the needs of our state.
While Massachusetts’ housing crisis is unique, Maura and Kim also know that many states across the United States are currently experiencing similar difficulties. Maura will work with governors from across the country to learn how they are addressing their housing needs for potential replication of successful strategies in Massachusetts. Furthermore, Maura and Kim understand the deep connections between the housing needs across Massachusetts and the willingness of local officials to permit and approve new housing. They are eager to work with municipal leaders to take a broader, regional view of housing issues. The Healey-Driscoll Administration hopes to build strong coalitions for housing advocacy within Massachusetts, across New England, and across the country.
ADDRESS CRITICAL SUPPLY NEEDS THROUGH PRODUCTION & PRESERVATION
Far and away the single most effective strategy to address the current housing crisis is to spur the production and preservation of housing at all levels, from low-income affordable housing to market rate homes. The state has a variety of tools at its disposal that work, but they need to be harnessed more intentionally. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will launch a multi-pronged approach to dramatically increase production to make housing affordable for all.
The Healey-Driscoll Plan
The Housing Choice Initiative was a meaningful effort to ease the path to housing production, particularly outside of Boston. The most significant provision, which aims to spur development of new homes around MBTA stations and requires as-of-right multi-family zoning districts, has the potential to significantly increase the number of homes in many suburban communities. Maura and Kim commit to implementing this law to the fullest extent by creating incentives for communities to actually build multi-family projects, including investing in communities that encourage growth, and for their Administration to provide ongoing technical assistance to municipalities to help them comply with the law. Maura and Kim see the potential for further zoning reform and, in tandem with this effort, will explore other avenues to address local zoning barriers to housing production.
Housing Choice also sets a goal for new units to be built by 2025 to meet our housing demand. While meeting that goal will require hastening the pace of current construction and outperforming our most recent production efforts, Maura and Kim believe that the state needs to be much more aggressive in its efforts to increase housing production. Maura will task her new Secretary of Housing with identifying bolder and more forward-thinking goals. However, just setting goals is not enough. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will commit to assisting local housing agencies and municipalities to set ambitious housing plans for their regions, that align with statewide objectives, and support the work from planning through implementation.
The state owns a wealth of land parcels that may be used for housing development that are routinely put up for purchase by private and nonprofit developers. However, often merely due to the shape or size of the parcels, developers cannot make the math work to produce a project that allows them to maximize density and affordability, while also meeting the goals of the local community. Maura and Kim will create an advisory council, including representation from residents, municipal officials, housing agencies, non-profit and private developers, and other stakeholders, which will be tasked with crafting and executing a statewide strategy to more effectively harness state land to advance the Commonwealth’s housing goals. The advisory council will be directly responsible for coordinating with the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) and other city or state agencies with real property to utilize public land and buildings to create more housing, either independently or by working with housing non-profits and the developer community to be more strategic in the sale and disposition of publicly state-owned land to better incentivize preferred housing sites. This may include reconfiguring the shape and size of a parcel or providing discounts on sale price in exchange for higher rates of affordable homes or other design specifications. Further, they will direct DCAMM and other government agencies to explore selling parcels in groupings, not just as individual property, to maximize housing development, while also ensuring developers build and protect community assets, such as parks and open space. The Healey-Driscoll Administration would also work with municipalities and local housing authorities, as well as private landowners with adjacent property, to expand production.
This is one example of how Maura and Kim will work to remove barriers to public-private partnership in the housing sector and as Governor, they will explore other avenues for creativity in the housing market. The Healey-Driscoll Administration would also work with developers and municipalities to ensure that new housing more accurately meets the needs of current and future residents. This includes expanding housing production for individual and family renters, older adults, persons with disabilities, as well as first-time homebuyers.
Despite the challenges in the current housing market, Massachusetts has a number of tools to encourage housing production that are considered some of the strongest and most effective in the country. A Healey-Driscoll Administration will build on that legacy by protecting tools like Chapters 40B & 40R, Massachusetts’ subsidized housing and smart growth zoning laws, expanding promising new programs such as CommonWealth Builder for single family development, and successful long-standing programs for multifamily development. They will also work to make investments in the Affordable Housing Trust, one of the state’s most effective and flexible resources to produce affordable and mixed-income housing.
Expanding the housing supply is not just about creating new homes, but also about preserving existing ones. The housing stock in Massachusetts is, on average, the second oldest in the country. Building on Maura’s work as Attorney General to address blighted and vacant properties, the Healey-Driscoll Administration will expand programs that help owners maintain and update homes, including lead abatement, water and sewage upgrades, weatherization, accessibility, energy efficiency, and climate resilience updates. The Healey-Driscoll Administration would be committed to exploring how funds from the federal Inflation Reduction Act can be harnessed to make homes more climate resilient. They will support clean energy improvement projects in public and subsidized housing. The Administration will also implement an Extreme Heat Action Plan, which includes large-scale tree planting, and identification and reduction of heat islands to lessen the impact of heat waves on people living in public and subsidized housing.
Maura and Kim believe residents of Massachusetts should be able to afford to live in the communities where they grew up or raised their families. Preserving existing housing, including naturally-occurring affordable housing and public housing, and continuing to keep it affordable in all regions of the state is an imperative to making that value a reality. Maura and Kim also recognize that preservation efforts need to work with changing communities. Further, while there are many subsidized housing developments across the state, they can lose their affordable homes when contracts or subsidies expire. They will work with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC), cities and towns, and tenant councils as they seek to preserve existing affordable homes well into the future.
Massachusetts seniors and their families also know the struggle for finding affordable housing that suits their lifestyle. Additionally, the pandemic illuminated the critical need for Massachusetts seniors to live in homes where they can safely get access to the care and services they need. The Healey-Driscoll Administration would develop housing strategies for seniors to both find appropriate opportunities to support their health needs as well as allow them to age in place.
TACKLE HOMELESNESS AND EXPAND ACCESS TO SAFETY NET PROGRAMS
Maura and Kim are deeply committed to the unhoused residents of Massachusetts. They know that housing affordability is the key challenge to addressing homelessness. With the growing cost of housing, families are struggling to find places they can afford to live, in the communities where they were raised, work, and send their children to school. Inflation, the pandemic, and gentrification are all contributing to more Massachusetts residents being unable to move, stay in their current home, and at risk for homelessness. Poverty, trauma, substance use disorder and mental health challenges all impact chronic homelessness in the Commonwealth. In order to fully address our housing needs, Massachusetts must expand the safety net to help more of those in need access housing.
The Healey-Driscoll Plan
It is critically important that the Commonwealth maintain and support a strong emergency shelter system for both individuals and families. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will work closely with municipalities, shelters, and social service providers to expand access to shelter beds and better coordinate safety net services. This effort will include an emphasis on better regional data collection around shelter use to connect individuals to beds. However, emergency shelters are a temporary solution for tackling homelessness, which is why Maura and Kim will work to ensure that these environments are safe and well connected to the services people need to get them out of the theylter system and into permanent housing.
The Healey-Driscoll Administration will seek to launch a major initiative to expand the production of permanent supportive housing and fortify wraparound services for families and individuals, including the use of $150 million recently appropriated by the Legislature from federal ARPA funds specifically for the development of permanent supportive housing. The Administration would also explore avenues to better integrate supportive housing social services through collaboration between the Housing and Health and Human Services Secretariats so individuals and families can get the care they need effectively and efficiently.
Additionally, Maura and Kim understand that residents experiencing chronic homelessness often face other challenges including mental health needs, substance use disorders, and chronic illnesses. They support case management and services for addressing these and other challenges to maximize housing stability and prevent returns to homelessness. Providing these services reduces strain on other crisis services such as emergency shelters, hospitals, courts, and public safety personnel.
Maura and Kim believe in the Housing First approach, which prioritizes stabilizing an individual’s housing before addressing other social issues. Housing First models treat individuals and families with the respect and dignity they deserve by getting them into housing quickly, and only then providing support services for other issues such as behavioral health needs and unemployment. Massachusetts has made progress on addressing homelessness among families and individuals, but much more needs to be done. In particular, the number of families struggling with homelessness has increased in the last year.
In addition to assisting our homeless residents in returning to stable living environments, Maura and Kim also will use all available tools and resources to prevent families from becoming homeless. They will task their Administration with determining areas for program flexibility to further encourage and support housing providers to work with at-risk families as early as possible when they encounter difficulties paying their rent or maintaining their tenancies. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will also explore other opportunities for helping residents stay in their homes before reaching a crisis point or receiving an eviction or foreclosure notice, including strengthening the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program. Tenants should be educated on their options, and connected with the public and community resources they need to maintain their housing.
Massachusetts has, over the last few years, prioritized major investments in the state’s rental assistance programs, most notably the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). The Healey-Driscoll Administration will continue the expansion of MRVP and the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) through additional investments and increased accessibility for participants. Currently eligibility far exceeds availability of vouchers. The Administration would work to reduce that gap. Further, they would explore additional rental assistance programs that may help renters cover the significant upfront costs of a rental unit, such as first and last month rent, in addition to a security deposit.
Maura and Kim know that too many Massachusetts residents are unable to connect to the resources they need to secure suitable housing. We need to make all of our housing programs more transparent and available to all who need them, including residents that do not speak English and those with limited access to the internet. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will do this by working closely with MassHousing to expand the online Housing Navigator Massachusetts database to simplify and streamline the application process for matching privately-owned assisted housing with tenants, thereby aiding renters, owners, and managers in filling vacant homes and units more quickly.
HARNESS HOUSING AS A TOOL FOR ECONOMIC MOBILITY
Housing is an essential tool for economic mobility. It is key to the social determinants of health and also significantly contributes to an individual’s concept of self-worth and ability to care for oneself. Maura and Kim understand the value that stable housing contributes in the life trajectory of a person, both for renters and homeowners. Their Administration will strive to use this as a frame for expanding opportunities for holistic upward mobility.
The Healey-Driscoll Plan
Homeownership is the single largest factor in building intergenerational wealth. Maura and Kim are committed to expanding opportunities for homeownership, particularly for those for whom it was previously out of reach. They recognizes that this specifically includes people of color who have suffered years of discrimination in the housing market. Their Administration will increase first-time homeownership by expanding down payment and closing cost assistance programs, as well as housing counseling services to support new homebuyers throughout the process and beyond. They will also work with tenants, housing organizations, and the business community to establish a “matched savings” program for first-time homebuyers.
A Healey-Driscoll Administration will work to increase the economic mobility of low income residents in public and assisted housing through workforce development and other services. Specifically, they will establish a task force that would coordinate workforce development programs with public housing and affordable housing programs so that more families can obtain and retain good paying jobs. This task force will include residents, local housing authorities, developers, businesses, workforce development agencies, as well as state leadership to find creative ways to lift up residents.
Maura and Kim will expand access to the federal Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS) in Massachusetts, which provides an incentive for families to increase their incomes and savings, and helps to facilitate first-time homeownership, by integrating the eligibility determination process with other federal and state benefit applications. The Healey-Driscoll Administration will encourage affordable housing property owners and housing authority officials to offer the program to their residents and will ensure that every eligible family has access to the program and the financial coaching necessary to achieve success. Similarly, they will modify housing program rules to allow tenants to increase their incomes for a period of time without jeopardizing their eligibility for affordable housing and other critical benefits, so that they can accrue savings and build their credit to be able to move on to other stable housing opportunities.
Maura and Kim know that the housing sector can also offer immense job opportunities for residents. They will support apprenticeship and other workforce programs that increase the talent pipeline in real estate development, construction, and other skilled trades roles. In order to execute on increased housing production, we need qualified people to complete the work. These programs will both help to increase the housing supply and enrich our economy by placing skilled workers in high-demand jobs.