If you Build it They Will Come says MBTA

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A recent online MBTA Zoom seminar for housing and transportation activists showcased the methods and strategies the Agency plans to employ to boost ridership by increasing housing densities near its stations. The seminar was presented at 1 PM on January 12. A lightly edited transcript of Secretary Kennealy’s introductory remarks follows...The Webinar PowerPoint slides are available here.

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Mike Kennealy, Secretary for Housing and Economic Development: We hope this is going to be an informative webinar. I'll also point people towards our mass.gov MBTA. Communities website, which has a lot more information about this topic, including the draft guidelines, some forms for communities to fill out this year, as well as a form to submit comments and questions on the draft guidelines. And a Frequently Asked Questions document.

By way of background, it was a year ago that Governor Baker signed an omnibus economic development package into law. And it included a number of things notably it included the Housing Choice zoning reforms, which have enabled our communities to adopt certain zoning measures to promote housing by a simple majority vote versus the supermajority vote that existed before. We continue to be encouraged by ...how it's being adopted around the state by local leadership using this tool to approve housing supportive zoning measures.

And that same bill also included this new multifamily zoning requirement for MBTA communities. And that, of course, is the topic we're going to talk about today. And I'll note as well, as we go through this deck, we'll make this deck available on the website, so folks can consult it afterwards.

Let's go to
the first slide
. You know, for us any discussion about housing starts with our level of housing production in the state. And as you can see here, from 1960 to 1990, Massachusetts permitted about 900,000 housing units. From 1990 until today, almost a 30 year period of time, it's been about half that. So, in a single generation, when our economies grew and our workforce is growing, our population has grown, our level of housing production has been cut in half. We estimate today, we're short by about 200,000 housing units. And if we go to the next slide. This describes a we talk about the housing crisis. I always say we don't use the term housing crisis lightly. But we do use it often. That's where we are in Massachusetts, we're in a housing crisis, we faced a core challenge now for some time to create adequate housing to support our young families, our workers and seniors. The pandemic only made these trends worse. And there's a lot of metrics we track insurance for housing markets today in the Commonwealth, we look at home values and rents, which today are among the highest and fastest growing in the country. We look at the degree to which our households are deemed to be cost burdened by housing. If you're paying more than 30% of your income and housing, your cost burden that's about half of our households today. We look at vacancy rates for homeownership and rental properties. You know, a stable market for homeownership is about a 2% vacancy for rental properties is about 6%. We're at about half those numbers today. So, we get some real challenges in housing. It's an incredible burden on our families, and households all around the state.

I'll note as well, one of the great joys of my job is traveling all over Massachusetts and engaging with

leaders, our community leaders, and I constantly hear everywhere in the state about the desire for our local leaders to produce more housing to create the kind of communities they want to create. And finally, the other dimension of the housing crisis is our ability to compete economically. This is a competitive disadvantage for us. Again, having very high housing costs relative to other states, hurts us in terms of our ability to create and retain jobs. I note as well that some of our states that we consider to be competitors in the innovation economy and other key sectors, places like Charlotte, Phoenix, and Houston, on a per capita basis today, those places are producing about three times the amount of housing we're producing. So, this housing crisis has a number of different dimensions that are impacting our households, impact on our communities, and impacting our ability to compete economically long term. Let's go to the next slide.

You know, confronting the housing crisis has been a top priority of the Baker administration since its earliest days. I'll note here are a few things that we've done to try to address the housing crisis first and 2018 the governor signed the largest housing bond bill in state history, authorizing more than $1.8 billion for affordable housing production and preservation. Since 2015. We've invested $1.4 billion into the affordable housing ecosystem, producing about 22,000 housing units. There are a number of other programs our Masterworks program, which I know a number of folks you've probably seen, that's generated another 21,000 housing units, our Commonwealth builder program producing properties for affordable homeownership. Many other programs, we've thrown a lot of different resources to this to simply create a lot more housing.

In the economic development bill, I mentioned the Housing Choice zoning reforms, we think are critically important. There's also a number of capital programs in there to create more transit oriented housing, money for neighborhood stabilization to return blighted or vacant units back into productive use, and money for climate resilient, affordable housing production. In recent months, the ARPA spending package signed by the governor has more money for housing production. And I'll note as well, the eviction diversion Initiative is a really terrifically important program ... To keep families housed during a pandemic. So, we've done so much the relief that we believe government can and should do to really address our housing crisis. But we simply need to produce a lot more housing all across the state. I always say that our housing strategy could probably be simply summarized as more types of housing everywhere. And so we need affordable housing, workforce housing, market rate housing, literally everywhere in Massachusetts. But I will note that transit oriented housing development, I think holds a special role in our strategy going forward, we have to continue to leverage housing best practices to meet the state's housing needs to position us best for the future. I think this was a tremendous opportunity for us, you know, Clark and team have done the analysis on the degree to which we have a lot of transit oriented housing today. The analysis they did was looking at our transit stops around Massachusetts, and literally counting up all the housing units within a half mile radius of those transit stops, and concluded there's about six homes per acre, near public transit, I think that's pretty darn low. If we simply got that six up to 10 units per acre... and 50,000 housing units that will be produced. So, this is a big opportunity for us. And I'll note as well, the importance of transit oriented housing, you know, this is simply good housing policy, good climate policy, good transit policy, and good local economic development policy, to have more housing near the places we go to every day to have better access to work and services and other destinations; by increasing increasing mobility of our citizens by increasing utilization of public transit, getting cars off the road, promoting equity and fair housing by providing more hope, more choice, more diversity for housing options.

I think this is a really important effort and initiative. And these guidelines, we hope will further these suggestions.

So, what are we talking about today? Well, I'll know that when the governor signed the multifamily zoning requirement into law last January, it made it clear that our administration could take a thoughtful approach to developing the guidelines in accordance with the new law. And we believe we've done that we've had a lot of discussions over the last year with a variety of stakeholders to inform our draft guidelines. The guidelines come out on December 15, as you probably saw, we had an interagency work group consisted of folks in my office and DHCD, but Mass Housing Partnership, Mass Development, and others work very closely with Clark and his team at MHP.

So it's been a robust process here internally within the administration, and engaging with a number of stakeholders. I'll note a few things about the guidelines. First, they do not take a one size fits all approach. Yeah, we have a great diversity of different MBTA communities, we recognize a multifamily districts that may be reasonable in one city or town may not be reasonable to another. The draft guidelines proposed that a district of quote reasonable size will be determined in part by the type of public transit in those communities. We do believe these promote equity and fair housing very important considerations as we solve our housing crisis. I'll note as well with these guidelines, as law is all about zoning, simply the rules that can be other rules that establish what can be built and where not with regard to permitting individual projects, or the production of housing itself. And so importantly, these guidelines do not have a production mandate. They have nothing to do, for example, 40 B, but they they really kind of level the playing field...It lets communities determine where these zones ought to be, and over the long term over the medium term, create the kind of housing they need for their communities.

Next. Before I turn it over to Chris and Clark, they'll just know that this is the relevant section from the economic development bill. And you can see in here a couple things. So this this is the kind of the entirety of the statute that is we've worked up to develop our guidelines, but it says an MBTA community, I'll have a zoning ordinance or bylaw that provides for at least one district of reasonable size where multifamily housing is permitted as of right. It's going to be housing with low constrictions and suitable for families, children [and] has to have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre. And, located not more than half a mile from public transit. For communities that don't comply with that they're not eligible for certain of our funds, notably, the Housing Choice initiative. In the local capital projects fund, it asked for its infrastructure program. And we are charged for the strategy to develop the guidelines. And that's what we issued on December 15. Throughout the guidelines in that regard.

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