Framing her new legislation as “historic” and “urgent,” Gov. Maura Healey detailed her wide-ranging housing bill on Wednesday morning and expressed hope that its passage will provide a jolt for the 2024 construction season.

“We gotta get after it,” Healey said at a press conference in Chelsea, saying that residents across the state are feeling the pressure of a squeezed housing market marked by low inventory and high costs.

“Today is about meeting the moment. It’s about meeting the moment and the needs of residents across the state. We’ve heard you, we listened to you, and today we’re taking action and in the days ahead we’re going to need collective action and team work to get this done,” the governor said.

Healey, who has marked her governorship so far with an emphasis on competing with other states, said the housing bill is necessary to keep residents from leaving Massachusetts.

The bond bill would invest $4.12 billion into spurring production of new units, upgrading aging and neglected public housing, converting state land into housing-ready plots and tackling major housing policy changes — including offering a green light to communities who want to impose a tax on high-price real estate transactions to steer new revenue into affordable housing development.

Housing and Livable Communities Secretary Ed Augustus called the bill “the most significant housing legislation filed in Massachusetts since 40B, 50 years ago.” The Chapter 40B statute enables housing developers to circumvent local zoning regulations in communities that do not meet certain housing quotas, and is still controversial in many towns and cities today.

Though Healey did not attach a specific deadline for the legislation, lawmakers who will vet her plan are also under pressure to address housing affordability, and she reminded the audience that construction season in Massachusetts starts in the spring and that she hoped to make the most of new development opportunities.

“Spring’s coming. Construction starts are coming or not, dependent on our ability to work together. So let’s go. Let’s get after it,” the governor said.

Healey’s proposal would allow governing boards in cities and towns to impose a new tax on higher-price real estate transactions, with the proceeds being used for affordable housing, and features an array of other tax code and policy changes designed to boost housing construction.

It got an early vote of confidence Wednesday from a big business group.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which has 3,400 member companies, declared its support for the bill only minutes after the legislation was announced. 

“The development of reasonably priced housing across the commonwealth will ensure that the workers who represent the economic future of Massachusetts can live here, raise families here and become part of their communities,” said AIM President Brooke Thomson. “Virtually every employer in Massachusetts has at one time heard a valued employee say: ‘I love working for this company, but my family can’t afford a house here.’ AIM looks forward to working with the Healey-Driscoll Administration and the Legislature to ensure those conversations become a thing of the past.”

The conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance protested the borrowing called for in the bill, as well as the proposed tax on home sales and the addition of “more government bureaucracies.”

“If Governor Healey wants to make housing more affordable, she needs to call on President Biden to lower interest rates, she needs to provide a way to lower property taxes, she needs to reverse the arbitrary green mandates which limit consumer choice and penalizes affordable energy options,” said alliance spokesman Paul Craney.  “The Governor is not dealing with the underlying issue of the cost of living and doing business in Massachusetts.” 

Greg Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said his group has “deep concerns about the inclusion of a sales tax on real estate” but otherwise applauded the administration’s “bold action to address the state’s crippling housing crisis” through more housing development.

As for the transfer tax, which supporters say would not be applied to most home sales, Vasil said, “It’s an unstable source of revenue that would cause more harm than good at a time when people and businesses are leaving the state because it is just too expensive.”

The GBREB says it has 13,000 members who work as realtors, commercial brokers, building and apartment owners and managers, and real estate finance professionals. 

(Copyright (c) 2023 State House News Service.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox