Housing Directions

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

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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22 Comments

  1. Rent control hurts housing, tenants, and property owners.

    It leads to a deterioration of the housing stock. Study after study has proven this.

    This is why nearly all economists oppose rent control.

    Rent control was outlawed in 1994 in Massachusetts. That led to better quality housing and a housing boom.

    You know all this, so let’s be honest.

  2. Senator Brownsberger, I am deeply concerned with what I hear coming from the City of Boston regarding so called “tenants rights”. Already, Massachusetts ranks #1 in the country with the most lenient tenant friendly laws…by far. The proposals that all tenants are afforded legal services once eviction proceedings are lodged against them is going too far. And that’s just one of the proposals. As it is, just to get proceedings moving forward the tenant has to be in serious breech of contract. And the number of hurdles landlords must jump to get them out is outlandish. Then, landlords must PAY to move them and PAY to store ALL their belongings. It’s laughable. Now to add a layer of free legal services will double the amount of time it takes to evict a tenant, which is already too long. I won’t even point out the litany of Housing Court judges that lean so far to the tenant’s side of the table I can’t believe they can keep a straight face while on the bench.
    I am encouraged to hear your stance on opposing rent control. But adding more “rights” to the tenants is a very BAD idea. They have more than the rest of the country have now and, believe me and this is from experience, they know how to take advantage of the generous laws now afforded them. Again, this would only give help to the bad apples and not help the good tenants who wouldn’t need these things being proposed anyway.
    Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion.

  3. The overreaching problem is a continually growing population. Maybe Belmont has or had some good ideas about limits.

    Not against affordable housing. What to do about so many people, increasing pollution, waste, and traffic nightmares.

    Thank you.

  4. The developers of Downtown Boston should build 3 bedroom family units and be prevented from moving affordable housing offsite. In the Seaport, no housing should be built until there are schools, public transportation and affordable housing. Boston is building a segregated city, one development at a time.

  5. Will
    Your commitment to these bills
    is most gratifying. I am sure that
    the more people of Belmont who look at the detail from a justice perspective
    we will succeed.
    George K

  6. The Road Transportation System is no longer able to deal with that many vehicles.

    First of all, we have to think about road capacity, especially during peak hours.

    Issues related to the busiest sections / intersections should be resolved first.

    If these issues are not addressed, then additional residential capacity will not only create permanent traffic delays, but also increase the death rate on the roads, bad pollution, not healthy environment.

    First of all, it is necessary to think over the infrastructure, plan for the years ahead and only then, gradually, raise the quota for construction.

    Very narrow and poor quality roads with extremely low carrying capacity going through densely populated areas, this is far from the solution. This is the path to nowhere.

  7. Housing prices in Boston are rising because more people want to live there. The only long-term solution to keeping rent affordable is to build more housing! Even if the new housing is expensive (which is usually the new case) if it increases the total housing stock it will relieve the pressure on older housing, keeping it affordable.

    I strongly agree that zoning regulations need to be adjusted to allow for and encourage more multiunit homes and higher density. All too often zoning is used to limit density and new development in order to keep housing prices high. Public policy should not be a tool for increasing the wealth of already-wealthy homeowners and landlords, but it should oriented toward keeping housing prices low.

  8. Rent control was a major failure in Cambridge. Belmont lives in the past and will have to be dragged screaming. Please force them to because transportation is as important as units. Affordable housing in Wayland? Yeah no.
    We need to reduce costs on elderly couples like myself who are overburdened with escalating taxes. The new lodging tax impacted our small rental and it’s getting insane to survive here. Maybe it’s time to let another generation move in especially since I’m paying for their new high school. My daughter drives north of Fitchburg to her home but works at Harvard. This is the future. Please work on the rail system! (As per previous question)

  9. While these proposals seem useful, none of them seem to address the issue of Boston luxury apartments being bought as investments–even used for money laundering–and allowed to sit unused for years. I’d strongly support an Empty Home Tax like the one Vancouver has.

    (Sources:
    https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2018/09/10/boston-new-luxury-towers-appear-house-few-bostonians/BkBkDOtdY2LwXpg2OhEWoJ/story.html

    https://www.curbed.com/2018/8/10/17674584/money-laundering-real-estate-paul-manafort-trial )

    1. Agreed that the holding of vacant investment units has contributed to the shortage and the price problems. I’m open to measures directly targeting this. I think we have to be a little careful — the definition of “vacant” is subject to some manipulation and we want to be careful about the incentives we create.

      1. I also agree with the above. Just wanted to echo that and to express my appreciate for your attention to these issues.

  10. Housing for low and moderate income definitely needed in area you cover. It’s also a great idea for diversity, socialization, etc. Hopefully Cushing Sq., as well as Arsenal Mall and Arsenalt St., is including 1/4 of this type housing. Need is great. Also, please include flexibility re. income/assets and special needs such as folks with medically managed physical/mental disabilities or therapy pets. Thanks, John

  11. I also hope there will be some conversations about rent increases driven by absentee airbnb hosts.

    In addition, as a resident of Brighton, while I have not seen any affordable units go up in my time here, my neighborhood has been overtaken by “luxury” renovations. They are next to empty five years after construction, and the rent is still going up astronomically. The explanation from my landlord: “these buildings have increased the neighborhood’s value.”

  12. I am a Belmont homeowner who lives just off Trapelo Rd. I support the development of more multi-unit buildings as described here, with two caveats:

    They must include affordable housing to keep the Cushing Square/Waverly neighborhoods economically and otherwise diverse. I like living in a neighborhood where I see people of all colors, speaking a variety of languages. And more important than my personal preferences, it’s a matter of justice and equality.

    I also hope new development will be aesthetically congruent with the architectural feel of the neighborhood. That would go a long way, I feel, toward alleviating objections people might have.

  13. Will, thank you for making housing one of your priorities for this legislative session and for your co-sponsorship of these important legislative initiatives. We are moving forward with our work on affordable housing in Watertown. (Thank you again for attending one of our Committee meetings.) I am sure we will be calling on you to help shape Watertown’s efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing.
    Also, congratulations on being chosen as the president Pro Tempore of the Senate.

  14. I’m under 40, I work in tech, and I can barely afford rent, let alone buy a home. Build more housing, make it affordable, get rid of absentee landlords, and get rid of full-time AirBnBs. The greed of landlords, investors, and luxury developers is what makes this city so difficult to live in — and it is SO difficult.

  15. I would support any legislation that promoted tiny homes. Also I think allowing properties that are primarily for business use, but could also allow for a small living space would be a great way to address housing needs, and make it easier for small businesses to grow. This would be ideal for artists, but other business owners would benefit too. This could address vacant storefronts and also a lack of affordable housing by adding more properties to the mix.

  16. Thank you for taking this issue on. One thing I’d like to throw out there is that there’s a lot of attention given to affordable housing, but not as much to middle and upper-middle class housing. Those of us who don’t qualify for affordable housing, but also can’t afford $1 million dollar condos, are left stuck in the middle. I think proposals like yours, to increase housing stock, would help a lot. I wonder if there might be other creative options, too — but if nothing else, it’d be good to know that policy-makers are at least thinking about that aspect of the problem.

  17. Thank you for advocating for more affordable housing. A good friend of mine living on fixed income could not find an affordable new apartment when she lost her longtime rental and she was forced to move an hour north.

  18. Glad to see you’re continuing to press for zoning reform. I’m embarrassed that Belmont refuses every effort to make room for people who need a place to live. We’re even proud of our obstinance, with our official long-term plan to preserve our small town identity 4 miles from one of the largest cities in the country. I believe this is one of the defining social justice issues of our time, that town governments can and purposely create housing shortages and drive prices to unaffordable levels.

    Developer fees are fine as far as they go, but they really don’t solve anything because they increase the cost of housing. Increase the cost=decrease the availability. The near-rich who get priced out of luxury new developments simply take their money and bid up the price of modest housing. That’s why we have former “starter” homes selling for $1 million. We need to lower the cost and increase the price of housing at every level, and that doesn’t come by increasing fees on housing production. And if all we build are tiny homes, then the richest people will buy up all the existing modest homes, and middle class people won’t be able to afford anything but the new tiny homes. Is that really what we want? I’d rather have plenty of big houses built for the rich, so they stop buying the modest houses and leave them for the rest of us, and our children.

  19. Thank you for supporting the housing issue. I am strongly in favor of multi unit development near public transportation. I also think there needs to be more and better housing options for people with disabilities.

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