“We have many loan officers who are working with several applicants, pre-approving them — then they’re outbidding one another,” Sicilia said.
Currently, a municipal zoning board ne a two-thirds vote to approve a zoning amendment or special permit.
For example, if a zoning board wants to allow homeowners to build an “in-law apartment” without a special permit, the board could adopt that bylaw with a majority vote. It would be easier for towns to adopt measures to reduce lot sizes or parking requirements.
The bill would let towns designate specific districts — such as downtown or near public transportation — where it would be easier to get permission to build multi-family housing or mixed-use developments.
Baker, in his testimony, cited multiple recent projects that were voted down due to the supermajority requirement. In Lenox, for example, 54% of residents at town meeting voted for a mixed-income rental housing project, which would have had 41 affordable units and 15 acres of open space.
“These are the apartments for the recent WPI graduate that the local manufacturer ne to fill her open job posting,” Baker said. “These are the condos that grandparents need to downsize to so that they can stay near their grandchildren in the Berkshires.
Elena Letona, director of Neighbor to Neighbor, a community organizing group in Gateway Cities, said the bill does not recognize the scope of the state’s housing crisis. “It assumes that just producing more housing will fix the problem, but it’s not recognizing or it’s ignoring the fact that there are a lot of people in the state that won’t ever be able to pay market prices,” said Letona.
Letona said people with minimum wage jobs, seniors on fixed incomes, or young people saddled with student debt still will not be able to afford homes. She wants a conversation about affordability, how to raise revenue for affordable housing and how to help tenants.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the city recently saw 3,400 families apply for 35 units of affordable housing. In Salem, Mayor Kim Driscoll regularly hears from seniors waiting 18 months for subsidized housing.
Several Realtors’ groups support the bill.
Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, a commercial real estate development association, said Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of housing production in the country. The number of communities with median home prices above $1 million has doubled in the past decade.
“Our children are living with parents because there are not enough homes on the market; our neighbors are moving away because they can’t afford the home prices because of the high demand and bidding wars and our travel commutes are getting longer because there aren’t enough homes near where we work,” said Deborah Sousa, executive director of the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association.
Darnell Johnson, regional coordinator for Right to the City Boston, an advocacy group that works to stop the displacement of low-income residents, said there are “more pressing issues” for lawmakers to deal with, relating to protections for tenants and homeowners going through foreclosure, and new revenue that can be tapped to build more affordable housing.
“We do need more housing, but we need more housing that is affordable,” Johnson said. “To allow for luxury development to come into the state in which luxury pricing is not what the residents that live here need or can afford, we think that’s wrong.
Baker acknowledged that more ne to be done to increase affordable housing. But he said part of the reason so much luxury housing is being built is because the zoning rule creates an uncertain process.
“If you have to spend five years and $5 million getting something through the local planning and zoning process, you want to make sure whatever you build ..
. you’re going to get your money back,” Baker said.