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Regional News

Massachusetts Prepares To Launch Its Own Housing Search Database

An apartment in Boston.
Jesse Costa
/
WBUR

Massachusetts lawmakers say one issue that continues to suppress business growth is a lack of affordable housing. So now the state says it's going to launch its own housing search tool. 

Officials say the centralized database will compile statewide housing listings as part of an effort to increase much-needed access.

Matt Murphy of State House News Service joins us to talk about the effort and other goings-on this week in Massachusetts state government.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Is this tool going to become the Band-Aid to the crisis lawmakers have been unable to address?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Governor [Charlie] Baker has been pushing aggressively now for some time, trying to get the legislature to act on one of his proposals to loosen some zoning laws in local districts to enable them to more easily build housing.

But everyone seems to agree that housing — or the lack thereof — is a significant issue, both for businesses looking to grow, people looking to buy homes, people looking to live closer to where they work. The lack of affordable housing is an issue.

So what we're seeing here is the state coming together with some nonprofit housing groups to create this sort of one-stop shopping, where people looking for housing can find the state's entire list of affordable rentals and openings — and other lotteries that they might get into to qualify for housing — to take advantage of the inventory that actually is there.

Sometimes we do hear, "But why more action isn't being taken on housing?" People say, "Look around: there's construction going on everywhere. Housing is being built." And if this is one way to help people find that housing, then perhaps it is a part of the solution, but certainly not the entire solution.

House and Senate Democrats are less than two weeks away from taking a multi-week break. There's still a pile of unfinished legislation: a transportation revenue bill, the seven-year education funding bill, campus closures. What are lawmakers actually going to achieve?

We're starting to see what each branch individually is going to do. We know that the House later this week is going to take up a major pharmacy bill. It's aimed at lowering prescription drug costs. This is a significant piece of legislation.

We know over in the House, the speaker has said he's looking to do a vaping regulation bill, as well as that big transportation revenue tax bill you mentioned. We haven't seen either of those, so we're still waiting.

But neither one of those are likely to get all the way through to the governor's desk before the recess. So in that category, I guess we're more looking towards a children's health bill and the big education funding reform bill that are both in conference. There's always the potential for deals to be reached there, though. I would not be surprised to see those carry over into the new year as well.

Another piece: the Senate last week took action on a campaign finance reform bill that would require more frequent reporting and disclosures and transparency around fundraising. That has passed both branches now, and there's a good chance we could see that get to the governor's desk.

Impeachment hearings will pull attention from Beacon Hill to Washington, D.C., later this week. Is that distraction going to have any impact on what's going on at the Statehouse?

I don't think it should. I mean, it's certainly of interest to people on Beacon Hill, and they're sort of watching it out of the corner of their eye. But especially the governor has been real reticent to get involved in these sort of national issues. He's trying to keep his head down and focus on his state agenda, including things that we just talked about, like housing.

The legislature is trying to do its thing, you know, knowing that it has its own re-elections coming up in 2020. They want to have a list of accomplishments they can point to when they go back before voters.

So I think it's unlikely that the impeachment going on in Washington will be a distraction for state legislators.

But you know, we're also seeing some of these congressional races heat up the race for Joe Kennedy's seat — the Senate race that Joe Kennedy is running in with Ed Markey, as well as some competition on the North Shore for Congressman Seth Moulton's seat. So those are places where I think you'd see more impact and more spillover from what's going on in D.C.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

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