Source: State House News Service


March 13, 2019

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 13, 2019….The co-chair of the Housing Committee is eyeing a hearing “fairly soon” on Gov. Charlie Baker’s zoning reform bill and wants to work to address reservations some have with the bill.

Rep. Kevin Honan, a Brighton Democrat, said after speaking at a recent public housing lobby day that the timeline around housing bills — including when one might come to the floor for a vote — remains uncertain.

“The hearing in the committee is something we have control over,” Honan told the News Service. “It would be fairly soon. It’s an issue we want to address soon, but after it leaves our Housing Committee, you don’t know.”

Baker’s bill (H 3507) is one of 129 currently before the Housing Committee, which has yet to start holding hearings this year. The bill, similar to a measure Baker proposed last session, would lower the threshold for approving local zoning changes aimed at spurring housing production from two-thirds to a majority.

Honan said that despite an “enormous amount of support” for the bill, some lawmakers want to see it do more to address affordability.

“The powers that be take this stuff serious,” Honan said. “They don’t just want to steamroll people. They want support. They want it to be a productive, civilized process. They don’t want to steamroll people, so they need to win their support. So the people who are right now reserving their support — not saying they’re outright opposing it because some of them aren’t — we need to work with them and bring them over.”

The group Metro Housing|Boston last week released a statement calling Baker’s bill “a necessary — but not the only — step that will help cities and towns in the Commonwealth tackle the lack of housing inventory.”

“This proposed legislation is a first step toward creating more housing, but it must intentionally include additional affordability provisions, with targets for deeper subsidies for families with the lowest incomes,” the statement said. “We encourage the Legislature to amend the bill, to do more to ensure that everyone — at all income levels — has a place to call home.”

The House and Senate ended the last two-year session without bringing the governor’s 2017 bill or any other housing production bill to the floor for debate and votes.

When Baker filed a new version last month, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he thought the original bill “at least moved the ball forward in terms of resolving at least part of the issue in terms of housing.” Asked why he didn’t bring the bill to the floor, DeLeo said, “We were working with various groups at the time. We thought we could get to a finalization and when we got to a finalization unfortunately we were in informal sessions at that point so it was what it was.”

Honan said there were “five of us who worked pretty hard on this” last session — himself, Reps. Ed Coppinger, Sarah Peake and James O’Day, and former Rep. Stephen Kulik — and came up with “some common themes” after months talking with experts and other legislators.

One of those themes, Honan said, is the difficulty of reaching the two-thirds vote threshold at the local level. Another key issue is allowing accessory dwelling units as of right, he said.

“Those two things would make a difference,” Honan said.

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