BOSTON (SHNS) – The Healey administration is considering a menu of housing policies, including creating seasonal designations for communities affected by summer tourism, establishing a commission on the future of senior housing and upgrading existing housing stock to make it more accessible for people with disabilities, the state’s top housing official suggested Wednesday.
Housing Secretary Ed Augustus floated a few ideas before the Dignity Alliance Massachusetts during a “study session,” where he hinted at some policies that may be included in a bond bill the administration plans to file to address the housing affordability and availability crisis in Massachusetts.
Augustus said to anticipate that bill sometime before the end of September, or by early October. It would be the first major, standalone bill Gov. Maura Healey puts forward to address the state’s housing problem — which she identified as one of her top priorities both on the campaign trail and during her first few months in office.
Though he did not go into detail about the contents of the housing bond bill, the secretary said it would include policies “that have been kicking around … for a number of years” and will “put a lot more tools in our toolbox.”
“It will not only recapitalize the programs that are funded by the bond bill, but it will also include what people call ‘outside sections,’ or a robust set of policy proposals that, we think, combined with the funding for the bond bill, will help move us forward to meet the moment in the housing crisis,” he said.
Housing activists are hopeful that the bill may authorize communities to seek a local-option transfer tax. The policy would enable cities and towns to assess fees on real estate transactions to raise money for affordable housing.
This policy is especially popular with communities on the Cape and islands, where out-of-state residents buying multi-million dollar summer homes have driven up housing costs for those who live there year-round. Hundreds of housing advocates from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket came to the State House in March to rally for transfer fees and were addressed by Senate President Karen Spilka — who did not explicitly endorse the policy, though her presence could have indicated support — and Housing Committee Co-Chair Lydia Edwards, who has said she supports local option transfer fees.
Asked Wednesday about the housing market in that part of the state, Augustus replied that it presents unique challenges.
“I know some of the issues are Airbnbs; people coming in and buying what used to be workforce rental housing, turning them into Airbnbs so they can make more money and just displacing folks. So we’re looking at things like creating seasonal designations, kind of like we do with Gateway Cities, where a unique set of issues in some parts of the commonwealth need unique sets of strategies to help them deal,” Augustus said. “Your challenges are very different than Boston, Worcester or Pittsfield.”
Sen. Susan Moran of Falmouth has a bill (S 1898) to tax short-term rentals, such as Airbnb units, currently in the Joint Committee on Revenue.
The secretary also told attendees Wednesday to be on the lookout for executive orders to form commissions regarding some of the state’s housing challenges.
“There are probably going to be a couple of executive orders that we ask the governor to file that put in motion some state commissions, studies that will help us inform future policy proposals, future legislation, future executive actions,” he said.
Augustus said senior housing is an example of one of the topics that these commissions could study and look to take action on.
Barbara L’Italien, executive director of the Disability Law Center and a former state representative and senator, urged Augustus to look at bills to reform zoning policy around accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.
ADUs can be attached to a main house to allow multigenerational families, or families in other situations, to live together while still having some independence.
“As the mother of a child with autism who is now 33 years old, the notion of ensuring that we have accessory dwelling units — and some of those bills have been heard in the Housing Committee — but the idea of allowing those folks who would like to have a loved one live with them, either their elderly parent or their disabled child. I mean, I think we need to pay attention to this as an option,” L’Italien said.
She continued, “No one thing is going to bail us out of our housing crunch, but enabling folks to be able to do that kind of stuff without the zoning restrictions we see now, I think would be incredibly important.”
L’Italien said ADU zoning reform would be especially helpful for the elderly and disabled communities, who if they cannot live in their own homes often have to go to expensive private or publicly funded housing where they can receive care.
“ADUs are very much on our radar and I would stay tuned,” Augustus said in response to L’Italien.