Both branches of the Massachusetts Legislature approved housing measures backed by Gov. Charlie Baker this week, aimed to increase the state's housing supply by lowering the approval threshold for municipalities to change zoning.
State Rep. Mike Connolly, a Democrat who represents Cambridge and Somerville, told Boston Public Radio on Thursday he "generally support(s) the intent" of Baker's Housing Choices legislation but fears it remains exclusionary for vulnerable communities.
"It's a one-sided proposal. It's a proposal that real estate industry lobbyists and municipal lobbyists agreed to. However, the voices of tenants and the concerns of tenants at risk of displacement really haven't been factored into the equation," he said. "There are some inequities built into the proposal."
Connolly cited a provision in the House's measure that would lower the zoning approval threshold to a simple majority for new multifamily housing, but keep the threshold at two-thirds approval for inclusionary zoning ordinances, which mandate that a certain percentage of the housing units developed are affordable.
Baker's Housing Choices Bill follows the rule of supply and demand, assuming that more housing across the board will mean more affordable housing overall, but Connolly said there needs to be explicit protections for lower income residents.
"There's been development happening everywhere [in the city], new buildings going up all the time, but once you get beyond the urban core, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of communities connected to the commuter rail where they see no new multifamily housing in any given year," he said. "Racist, exclusionary zoning is a real thing. Doing this housing choice proposal will help us allow for new housing, but what people need to understand is the barriers to affordability exist on multiple dimensions. Just because you make it easier to zone for new housing, doesn't ensure it'll be affordable for the people who need it most."
The proposal has yet to make its way to Baker's desk and comes in the form of separate House and Senate jobs bills which must be reconciled into one law.