As Healey proposes new housing secretary, advocates and landlords push for bold action
If there’s one thing people who work on housing can all agree on, it’s that Massachusetts is facing an unprecedented crisis. Evictions and homelessness are on the rise, and experts say the state needs hundreds of thousands of new homes just to keep up with current demand.
Gov. Maura Healey laid the groundwork for a comprehensive housing policy during her campaign. She has now made the topic one of the first she’s tackled in office, announcing a working group to develop a cabinet-level housing office for her administration.
Vanessa Calderon-Rosado served on the governor’s housing transition team. She’s the head of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, a nonprofit in Boston’s South End with 667 affordable housing units in its portfolio.
Calderon said it’s about time housing gets its own secretariat, alongside climate, transportation and public health.
“That will allow the governor to really, firsthand have a pulse on what’s going on with housing development across the state,” she said. “But also it will help integrate housing with every other aspect of state government.”
Calderon and other housing advocates are calling for a roadmap to increase the state’s housing supply to meet demand across all income levels.
That’s something we can expect from the newly-created secretariat, said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. After serving 17 years as mayor of Salem, Driscoll said she’s poised to play a leading role in the state’s housing push
While a statewide housing plan has yet to be written, Driscoll pointed to an array of regional and local plans as a starting point for a full assessment of what’s needed across Massachusetts.
“This new housing secretary will be charged with bringing those plans together to create one roadmap with ideas, suggestions, strategies, ways that we can partner with both private sector builders, public sector builders and local jurisdictions to create the housing we need,” she said.
Driscoll said the new administration will continue the push for housing reform spearheaded by Gov. Charlie Baker. That includes the Housing Choice Initiative, which provides financial incentives for communities that build more housing, as well as the MBTA Communities Law, which requires municipalities to build more multi-family units around public transit.
Overall, Driscoll said the administration’s goal is to solve the state’s housing woes. But it’s going to take a long time — and a lot of money — to get there.
“I want to really put a pin on how difficult that is,” she said. “We are not building enough housing right now, and we have not been building enough housing to meet the needs of the people who live here for the last decade.”
One initiative she wants to pursue is using more state-owned land to build affordable housing.
“When you think about why housing is so expensive, a lot of it is tied to the cost of land,” she said, adding that using state land would lower building costs.
Asked how the administration will assess its progress on housing, Driscoll pointed to the number of units produced in the coming years, and slowing the increase of homelessness in Massachusetts.
Driscoll also said the development of middle class housing is a top priority.
“The individuals I hear from the most are people who are working hard, working sometimes multiple jobs … but certainly don’t earn enough to keep up with these high rising rents,” she said. “That ‘missing middle’ is a key issue that we need to press in on.”
Housing advocates across the state are placing high hopes on the administration’s willingness to tackle the housing crisis. Doug Quattrochi is the head of MassLandlords, a trade association, and has several legislative items he hopes Healey and Driscoll will advocate for — and quickly.
“Everybody enters office with this kind of optimism that they can do everything,” Quattrochi said. “What Gov. Baker was saying on the way out was basically, the job grinds you down. So I hope Gov. Healey is able to do some really good housing work, early, before the grind sets in.”
Quattrochi wants to hold the state accountable for its use of federal rental assistance money during the pandemic.
MassLandlords claims tens of thousands of eligible residents may not have received rental assistance — possibly leading to preventable evictions. They also said the Baker administration did not release critical data on how hundreds of millions in rental assistance dollars were spent. Quattrochi hopes the Healey Administration will release the data, so watchdogs can track the efficacy and equity of rental assistance efforts.
Advocates for tenants feel energized by the administration’s push for more housing. Annette Duke, a housing attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, thinks Healey’s first year in office could be a big one for housing laws. Duke points to several pieces of legislation lawmakers plan to submit by Friday:
- Tenant access to legal counsel in housing court
- Eviction record sealing
- Opportunity for tenants to purchase property
- New housing revenue through a real estate transfer fee
- Foreclosure protection
“I think the Healey-Driscoll administration has really signaled that they want big change,” Duke said.