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Advocating for Improvements to the Housing Bond Bill

December 22, 2023

I was recently driving home from work, listening to the radio, when I heard City Council President Jesse Lederman advocating for Springfield to create a municipal affordable housing trust—citing our Greater Springfield Housing studies from 2021 and 2022. Music to my ears!

Advocacy work is a long game. Results don’t usually come overnight, but over time and through ripple effects. When our work does yield results, as with the housing studies, and shine brightly—guiding conversations, informing stakeholders, convening leaders, driving policy—I am both heartened and inspired.

The close of 2023 brought several such shining moments, including an October meeting of the Western Massachusetts Housing Coalition (WMHC) with Lieutenant Governor Driscoll and Housing Secretary Augustus. And culminating with a December meeting of the WMHC and the Western Massachusetts legislative delegation to discuss the Affordable Homes Act—the innovative housing bond bill put forth by Governor Healey—to recommend some changes to help it better serve our region.

When we first convened the Western Massachusetts Housing Coalition—a collaboration of more than 50 organizations and entities that work in and serve our four counties—in May 2022, it was with one big goal in mind: to be poised and ready to help inform and shape the housing bond bill. Updated every five years, this is the engine that can help us take on our housing supply challenges, by propelling the production of more deeply affordable units, more affordable units, more supportive units, more workforce units, and more market-rate units.

We strongly support the Affordable Homes Act (AHA) Governor Healey released on October 18, 2023, which includes critical funding to create more housing and preserve existing homes, plus key policy proposals to help the state reach housing goals quickly and efficiently. However, we have identified some important changes that are required to ensure the programs in the bill fully meet the needs of western Massachusetts. (Read the WMHC’s full recommendations here.)

A theme to emerge in several of our recommendations? Don’t forget the rural areas! Of the 101 municipalities in western Massachusetts, 84 of them are rural communities. They need housing solutions, too. Here’s a snapshot of some of the coalition’s input to legislators through a rural lens:

  • To ensure equitable regional distribution of capital funds, we recommend creating a rural set aside in the Qualified Allocation Plan—including scoring criteria of projects and funding levels that recognize feasibility challenges in rural communities. Our rural towns face specific challenges, including the lack of water and sewer systems, that can make them less competitive for state capital funds.
  • We support the investment of $1.6 billion for public housing but recommend revising the funding formula for small and rural housing authorities to account for the total number of buildings and developments managed. This will support rural communities in maintaining their properties, which may be spread across a large geographic area.
  • We recommend removing the 10-unit minimum from the Commonwealth Builder Program—one of the only vehicles for non-profit developers to create affordable homeownership—and advocate for the program to accept smaller projects from a wider range of communities, including economically distressed rural communities. 
  • We advise amending the real estate transfer fee—a local option which will help fund affordable housing development—so communities in western Massachusetts can actually use it. As proposed, the fee would only apply to the portion of a property sale over $1 million or the county median home sales price, whichever is greater. We recommend allowing for a transfer fee on the total transaction for property sales over $1 million or the county median sale price for a single-family home when the median sales price is below $750,000.

The Affordable Homes Act is truly a watershed moment for us all in terms of making headway against housing supply challenges. The Western Massachusetts Housing Coalition believes that with some modifications, the bill can work even better for all communities! 

We are most grateful to our Western Massachusetts legislative delegation for their support and willingness to advocate for our region.
Keith Fairey, President & CEO