Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 3 to June 7, 2024

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 06-14-2024 3:33 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 3 to June 7. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

$6.5 billion housing package (H 4070)

The House, 145-13, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that supporters said includes $6.5 billion in bond authorizations, tax credits and several policy initiatives that promote housing production, facilitate the development of affordable housing and preserve public housing.

Provisions include $2 billion to support the repair, rehabilitation and modernization of more than 43,000 public housing units across Massachusetts; $200 million to support innovative and alternative forms of rental housing, including single-person occupancy units, transitional and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, housing for seniors and veterans and transitional units for persons recovering from substance use disorder; $60 million to modify homes of individuals or families with disabilities or seniors so that they may maintain residency or return home from institutional settings; $20 million to establish a veterans supportive housing program to develop and preserve supportive housing for veterans and their families experiencing homelessness; $50 million to create a new Healthy Home program to provide grants and loans for programs to make homes habitable; and $50 million for the acquisition, rehabilitation and sale of distressed properties.

“I’m incredibly proud of the investments included in this bill, which together make the largest investment in affordable and middle-income housing, as well as critical infrastructure related to housing production, in the history of the commonwealth,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy. “Given that Massachusetts is one of the most expensive states in the entire country to buy a home or rent an apartment, the funding and tax credits provided by this bill will be crucial as we work to ensure that every Massachusetts resident can afford to live here, work here and raise a family here.”

“This comprehensive bond bill will help address the commonwealth’s undeniable housing crisis,” said Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “By putting billions of capital resources toward constructing new homes and toward rehabilitating our aging public housing infrastructure, we will be making a difference to the thousands of residents who live in these facilities. The policies also contained in this legislation will help incentivize housing production, increase affordability options for residents and help alleviate the pressure on the housing inventory as a whole.”

“[This] is the largest housing investment in state history and meets the moment for our state’s housing landscape and people struggling with housing availability,” said Rep. Jim Arciero, D-Westford, House chair of the Housing Committee. “Massachusetts is amidst a housing crisis that has affected every corner of our state, from renters to homeowners to first-time homebuyers purchasing their first home looking to set down roots for their family. This comprehensive bill provides tools in the toolbox for our communities, including investments in state infrastructure to accommodate the need to replenish our housing stock and build deeply affordable to market-rate housing.”

Despite repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call, only two of the 13 representatives who voted against the bill responded to the requests asking them to share the reason they voted against it. The two who responded were Reps Bill Driscoll, D-Milton, and David DeCoste, R-Norwell.

“This legislation does not protect our residents from increased rents and further inflated housing costs when it comes to accessory dwelling units (ADUs),” Driscoll said. “As it stands now, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, the section on ADUs opens the door to corporate entities and investor-owned properties building ADUs by right and not specifying support for owner-occupied and expanded family housing.”

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DeCoste said he voted against the bill because of a provision that creates the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). The website advocating for TOPA explains that the program would allow cities and towns the local option of providing tenants in multi-family buildings the right to match a third-party offer when their homes are being sold. Tenants can designate their rights to a non-profit or local housing authority, or partner with an affordable housing purchaser.

“TOPA hurts small property owners,” said DeCoste. “It will lead to more rental properties being sold to large out-of-state property holding companies because small property owners cannot overcome the timing obstacles.”

The 11 representatives who did not respond to the requests are: Reps. Fred Barrows, R-Mansfield, Nicholas Boldyga, R-Southwick, Angelo D’Emilia, R-Bridgewater, Paul Frost, R-Auburn, Susan Gifford, R-Wareham, Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica, Norman Orrall, R-Lakeville, David Robertson, D-Tewksbury, Michael Soter, R-Bellingham, Alyson Sullivan, R-Abington.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Waiver from MBTA Communities Act (H 4077)

The House, 27-130, rejected an amendment that would waive the requirements of the MBTA Communities Act for cities and towns that have met their Chapter 40B affordable housing threshold. The Chapter 40B law enables local zoning boards of appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20% to 25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.

The MBTA Communities Act, according to the state’s website, requires that an MBTA community “must have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and meets other criteria,” including minimum gross density of 15 units per acre; and a location not more than half a mile from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station. No age restrictions can be applied and the district must be suitable for families with children.

“My amendment would waive the MBTA Communities Act for towns and cities that have met their 40B affordable housing threshold,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica. “Unfortunately, the majority party defeated the amendment as they don’t care about the negative impact that thousands of new housing units will have on suburban communities’ infrastructure, education systems and public safety personnel.”

Rep. Jim Arciero, D-Westford, said the amendment goes against the spirit of taking up this law for housing production. He noted that the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities has been diligently working throughout the state and thus far more than 70 communities are in compliance, another 50 have submitted plans for review, while 11 have been rejected. He argued that, with this implementation still moving forward, we need to see it through with this law.

A “No” vote is against the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Aaron Saunders — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Appeal MBTA Communities Act (H 4707)

The House, 32-126, rejected an amendment that would require the Department of Housing and Community Development to develop and promulgate regulations allowing a city or town affected by the zoning provisions of the MBTA Communities Act to appeal for relief from those provisions. Any appeal would have to be based on at least one of the following criteria: the community’s inability to meet the drinking water supply or wastewater requirements necessary to support the housing units authorized by the law’s zoning provisions; the inability of municipal transportation infrastructure to safely accommodate the increased population attributable to this housing development; any adverse environmental impacts attributable to the development of housing units under this act; and any adverse impacts on historic properties.

“This amendment would have provided communities with some flexibility in dealing with the MBTA Communities Act by offering an appeals process based on a narrowly defined set of criteria that reflect legitimate concerns about the law,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “This was a very modest request to assist communities impacted by this law. While it would not have guaranteed a successful appeal, it would at the very least have allowed municipal leaders an opportunity to make their case for relief from the law’s zoning provisions.”

Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, urged rejection of this or any amendment that, at this early stage in the implementation of this law, undermines it. She said that 70 communities have already figured out how to make it work for them and other communities should be given a chance to do so.

A “No” vote is against the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Aaron Saunders — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Count mobile homes (H 4070)

The House, 29-127, rejected an amendment that would allow cities and towns to count mobile homes as homes that count toward the Chapter 40B law that enables local zoning boards of appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20% to 25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.

“Mobile home parks should be considered affordable housing units under 40B and allow a community [that] has them to use those units toward their 10% affordable housing stock the state expects them to reach, exceed or maintain,” said Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn. “Most mobile home parks were originally built as affordable housing units for those returning from World War II. They are affordable to buy and live in and therefore they should count as such.”

Rep. Jim Arciero, D-Westford, said the amendment is an attempt to bypass the 40B law and allow cities and towns a way to circumvent the requirement for providing affordable housing. He said attempts to avoid production of affordable housing statewide, as this amendment seeks to do, are counter to the intent of the 40B laws.

A “No” vote is against the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Aaron Saunders — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Also up on Beacon HillChild care for candidates running for public office (S 422/H 669)

The Elections Laws Committee has recommended passage of a bill that would allow a candidate for public office to use campaign funds for child care while the candidate is campaigning on his or her own behalf or attending events that are directly related to his or her campaign.

Under current law, candidates are prohibited from using campaign funds for their personal use. The state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance has classified child care, while performing campaign duties, as a personal expense rather than a campaign expense.

“Too many women, people of color and other parents have struggled to run for office while being the caretakers for their family, trying to balance caregiving with campaigning,” said co-sponsor Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville. “For many, this was too big a hurdle and they never ran. I would have never been able to run a successful campaign without the help of my friend who volunteered to take care of my young children for free. This bill will allow more women and people of color to run for office.”

“Prospective legislators with children should not have to choose between their families and public service,” said co-sponsor Rep Joan Meschino, D-Hull. “This bill helps break down the economic barrier of child care and opens new doors to make the path to elected office more accessible. The committee’s favorable report is exciting.”

“Our campaign finance laws are organized around the concept of spending that enhances a candidate’s political future,” said Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge. “Allowing child care as a campaign expense fits well within that framework because ensuring access to child care will enable a broader group of people, particularly women and parents in working families, to more fully participate in the political process.”

Funding for information technology (S 2806)

The Senate approved a $1.24 billion bond bill to invest in information technology (IT) upgrades, improvements and new projects across state government. The House has already approved a different version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will likely try to hammer out a compromise version.

Provisions include $750 million to improve service delivery to the public; $200 million for technology and telecommunications infrastructure improvements and maintenance; $200 million to support the security of the state’s IT infrastructure; and $25 million for artificial intelligence (AI) projects.

“Today the Senate is investing in a safer, more efficient and modernized digital experience for residents and state employees alike,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “Our technology infrastructure is a lynchpin for nearly every service and resource our state delivers, and enhancing it is a fundamental step to increase access and create systems that work for everyone.”

“I’m pleased the Senate has proactively moved to upgrade and improve upon the quality and efficiency of the commonwealth’s information technology for Massachusetts state agencies across the board,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “Cyberattacks have been occurring with increasing frequency on governmental entities, so we can never be too vigilant in safeguarding our IT system and telecommunications infrastructure. It’s critical for residents and businesses of our state to navigate the many portals of the state governmental website safely and effectively.”