Housing Directions (17 Responses)

Over the past few months, I have been reaching out and listening to many voices on the subject of what to do about our regional housing affordability crisis.

In many neighborhoods in my district, rents and housing prices have risen enough that many are unable to remain in the communities they have chosen. The struggle to provide an adequate supply of affordable housing is deeply interwined with the larger struggle to reduce inequality.

Housing is also deeply intertwined with sustainability and transportation issues – suburban sprawl elevates carbon emissions from both drivers and homes. And increasing housing density elevates the demand for high quality public transportation.

Under our current legal framework, most of the housing policy decisions are made at the local level. I represent a big part of Boston and all of Watertown and Belmont. Leaders in Boston and Watertown have been very committed to building more housing and have added many new units, substantially increasing density.

Belmont, by contrast, has added relatively few units over the past few decades. Belmont’s low housing production reflects zoning decisions made long ago with the explicit goal of limiting the density of development. Especially around the train stations in Belmont and along the Trapelo Road corridor, I feel that Belmont could accommodate more multi-unit development.

The state can alter the zoning framework and redefine the responsibilities of communities to produce housing. In 2016, I voted for zoning reform which would have created substantial new production obligations for Belmont. That zoning reform passed the Senate but did not ultimately reach the Governor’s desk. In the 2017-18 session, zoning reforms never made it to the floor for consideration.

Zoning issues are deeply controversial and it is not surprising that we have been unable to achieve consensus. I do hope that in the coming session we can make meaningful progress on zoning reforms that will remove barriers to production of affordable housing. As soon as likely changes take clearer form, I will raise them for discussion in this forum and in the community.

I am also hopeful that we can make progress on the measures that would raise money from luxury developers for the purpose of building affordable housing. For example, the Mayor of Boston has proposed that the city have more ability to raise development fees and Senator Boncore has proposed that communities be allowed to impose a transfer tax on higher end sales.

I am open to measures to assure that tenant rights are properly recognized in housing disputes, for example, establishment of a right to counsel in housing court.

I am more cautious about measures like rent control – it is often hard to predict whether broad regulatory measures will deliver help to the people most in need and how they will affect the long-term production of more housing.

There are many worthy proposals before the legislature that are oriented to limiting tenant displacement and producing more housing. I am cosponsoring many of them — see below. The real challenge will be to assemble a collection of measures that will actually pass and make positive change happen.

I will work with my colleagues towards the goal of delivering meaningful housing reforms in the coming session.

Housing Legislation Cosponsored by Senator Brownsberger, 2019-2020

SD.334An Act supporting affordable housing with a local option for a fee to be applied to certain real estate transactions
SD.344An Act providing tax relief to seniors while creating affordable housing
SD.526An Act promoting housing opportunity and mobility through eviction sealing (HOMES)
SD.625An Act to ensure right to counsel in eviction proceedings
SD.746An Act to sustain community preservation revenue
SD.1636An Act relative to tiny homes
SD.1640An Act relative to housing reform
SD.1773An Act regarding municipal form-based zoning codes
HD.1868An Act to establish a task force to review housing production and equity in the Commonwealth
SD.1941An Act creating a multi-family housing incentive pilot program
SD.1944An Act establishing a roadmap for housing solutions
SD.1985An Act promoting cluster residential development

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    Will Brownsberger
    State Senator
    2d Suffolk and Middlesex District