EASING RULES ON building accessory dwelling units, or “granny flats.” Allowing cities and towns to impose real estate transfer fees. A new “momentum fund” aimed at attracting private capital.
Those are some of the proposals packed into the $4.1 billion housing bond bill that Gov. Maura Healey is unveiling this morning, at a press conference outside a set of Chelsea apartment buildings.
“It will create powerful ripples for decades to come to ensure that families and individuals live in communities they can take pride in,” Ed Augustus, Healey’s housing chief, said in a statement. “The push to spur housing production will also directly help many others across a wide range of incomes who feel they’ve been priced out here in Massachusetts.”
The legislation, which will be worked over by state lawmakers before it makes its way back to Healey’s desk, seeks to dent the region’s housing crisis. Amid all the initiatives, the bill does not include rent control, a hot button topic that some municipalities are pushing to reimpose, which could end up on a future ballot.
The bond bill has been long anticipated by housing advocates and policymakers, who have debated how to approach the need for new homes as the high cost of housing threatens to throttle the state’s economic competitiveness. The bill’s initiatives affect 65,000 housing units, whether they’re newly built, preserved, rehabilitated, improved or otherwise supported, according to state officials.
Affordable housing, in particular, is desperately needed. The bill sets aside $800 million for the affordable housing trust fund to create or preserve such housing.
Kenzie Bok, the administrator of the Boston Housing Authority, which owns or oversees 12,600 rental units of public housing, said the bond bill “speaks to the urgency” of the crisis in Boston and in Massachusetts. “We all know the crisis is enormous and that we need even more resources than this,” Bok said. But she called the bill “a great next step,” hailing the fact that it authorizes more than double the amount of the last housing bond bill, passed in 2018 under then-Gov. Charlie Baker.
Overall, the legislation allocates $1.6 billion to state-funded housing authorities, for repair, rehabilitation and modernization of 43,000 public housing units across the state. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, a social justice group that pushed for many of the initiatives included in the bond bill, said public housing units are “crumbling due to decades” of deferred maintenance.
A new “momentum fund” would receive $50 million to create a revolving account administered by the quasi-public agency MassHousing, which finances public housing. With an eye on rising interest rates that have limited development, state officials hope the fund would pull in financing from pension funds, endowments and foundations to get deals on affordable housing production back on track.
The bill also includes $275 million for housing initiatives that would help with office-to-residential conversions or modular homes, and it would put $30 million towards disposing state-owned surplus land, such as former hospitals and prisons. A new developer tax credit calls for the creation of homeownership units, which would come with an affordability restriction.
Under the raft of policy initiatives in the bill, homeowners would be able to more easily build accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, also called “granny flats,” which are under 900 square feet, in single-family zoned districts in all communities. Boston has made similar moves in the city’s Mattapan neighborhood, seeking to add what officials there call “gentle density” and encourage multigenerational housing.
One of the more controversial elements of the bill is likely to be the proposed real estate transfer fee. The bill calls for allowing municipalities and regional affordable housing commissions to adopt a fee, ranging between 0.5 percent to 2 percent, that the seller of a property would have to pay on the portion of sale proceeds over $1 million, or the county’s median home sales price, which is greater. The money generated from the fee would go towards affordable housing.
Transfers involving affordable housing, family members, or intergovernmental entities would be exempt.
The transfer fee is expected to draw opposition from the state’s real estate sector. A home rule petition setting up such a fee that is being pushed by Boston officials is opposed by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which has called it a bad tax policy that would harm housing production and the local economy.