Springfield legislators, developers rally behind Baker’s housing bill

March 4, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Charlie Baker didn’t mince words. While saying that Massachusetts is number one in many categories – innovation and education among the categories – it also has another number one distinction: the “highest home prices and rents in the country.”

He added, “That is not something anyone would want.”

On Feb. 28, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno hosted a press event featuring Baker in an effort to publicize the governor’s new bill that, if passed by the Legislature, could help address the Commonwealth’s housing shortage. The mayor and governor were joined by state Sen. James Welch, and state Reps. Budd Williams, Michael Finn and Carlos Gonzalez, as well as President and CEO of Wayfinders Peter Gagliardi, President of STCC Dr. John Cook, and President and CEO of First Resource Companies Gordon Pulsifer.

According to information from the governor’s office, “State and local governments need to work together to meet this challenge. In order to do this, the Administration has created the Housing Choice Initiative; a multi-pronged effort to align resources and data to create a single point of entry for communities seeking assistance in increasing their supply housing. A crucial part of Housing Choice Initiative is the Housing Choice designation and grant program. The Administration has identified simple, flexible standards that are achievable (yet aspirational) to all municipalities.”

Sarno said the bill “strikes a delicate balance” in the creation of new housing and noted it would assist the development of market-rate, workforce and affordable housing.

In a written statement Sarno said, “Gov. Baker’s legislation will allow other communities to do more of what Springfield is doing. This bill reduces the threshold from a two-third vote to a simple majority vote only for a specific set of housing zoning measures aimed at producing housing of all types. While the two-thirds vote has not been an impediment in the City of Springfield, I recognize that the supermajority is a significant obstacle for other communities seeking to create more housing. This change could prove to be a major boost in helping to move along not just local housing initiatives across the Commonwealth, but also provide an additional tool in helping to spur economic development projects too. I cannot stress enough that all of our communities across the Commonwealth need to step up and take on their fair share of this Housing Initiative.”

Baker said that while “no one disputes we have a housing crisis,” he asserted that since 2002 there hasn’t been anything done that would affect it.

The governor said that with current housing prices and availability it is difficult for young people to stay in the Commonwealth to pursue careers and for young families to settle here. Also he added the prices are affecting older residents on fixed incomes.

He said of housing, “We see it an economic development issue.”

Baker urged the passage of the bill and added, “We need to get this done in this legislative session.”

Gagliardi said, “This particular initiative goes beyond affordability [of housing] to goes to availability.”     

Pulsifer gave a progress report on the expansion of housing at the Indian Motocycle Building in Mason Square. He said the work to build 60 new affordable housing units at the site of the historic factory is 60 percent complete and should be completed in May.

He called the governor’s bill “one more tool for developers.”

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