BOSTON – There's broad agreement on Beacon Hill that Massachusetts has a housing affordability and production problem, but the Legislature on Tuesday departed for campaign season without tackling the issue, leaving one of Gov. Charlie Baker's priority bills in a House committee.
Baker thinks Massachusetts can produce 135,000 new units of housing over the next five or six years by lowering the threshold required for municipal zoning bylaw changes from two-thirds to a majority. But his bill to achieve that, despite his repeated pleadings for its passage and support from communities and real estate groups, never came up for a vote.
Saying Massachusetts "really needs to build more housing," Baker told reporters Wednesday afternoon, "I haven't given up on that one. It didn't happen in the formal session but they will be meeting in informal session. I think there's a lot of support for it and I'm going to continue to advocate for that."
While some on Beacon Hill see the issue as a closed case for 2018, the House chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing said the door is not completely shut on Baker's "housing choices" bill.
"The governor's bill is a good bill and we need more housing in Massachusetts," Rep. Kevin Honan, a Boston Democrat, told the News Service.
A buzz among housing advocates, and even some lawmakers, that the bill would be released from House Ways and Means and voted on Tuesday never came to pass, but it was a matter of debate among House leadership right down to the wire.
Honan said housing, urban planning and construction groups had coalesced in recent days around Baker's bill and knew that getting a housing bill approved this session was better than nothing, even if advocacy groups didn't get everything they wanted.
The problem, according to Honan, was lingering concerns among members of the House, including some progressives who were upset that the bill did not have an affordability component and local-control purists who did not want to see any erosion of the authority of local boards.
Like Baker, Honan mentioned that possibility of passing the bill during informal sessions that will continue through the end of the year, but during which any one member can object and block a bill's passage.
"We have more work to do, and will be talking with members about their concerns over the next few weeks," Honan said.
Many lawmakers, including former Senate President Harriette Chandler, this session flagged housing affordability as an urgent concern, but Democrats who run the Legislature never brought a housing production bill to the floor of either branch.
Most of the jockeying on the issue occurred outside the Legislature, with advocates, administration officials and lawmakers working to round up support for their own housing, land use and zoning law reforms.