I support Town Meeting Articles 33 and 34. These are important steps that could, over time, add needed units, affordability, and diversity to our housing stock, and strengthen our local economy.
From December 2018 to January 2023, I served in Governor Baker’s cabinet as Secretary of Housing & Economic Development, charged by the governor to address our state’s housing crisis. From 1960-1990, Massachusetts permitted 900,000 new units; from 1990-2020 we permitted around half that — 470,000. With the law of supply and demand, Massachusetts home values went from around the national average in 1980 to the third highest of 50 states now. Rents are also in the top three. We must, as Governor Baker always said, get back in the housing production business.
“We” especially applies to suburbs. From 2010-2020, Massachusetts permitted 80,000 multi-family units: 30,000 in Boston, 18,000 in the next 10 cities, and only 32,000 in the next 340(!) cities and towns. Towns like Lexington need to step up. For many of our citizens — people at risk of homelessness, seniors looking to stay in their communities, young families seeking to build a life — housing is unavailable or unaffordable. We can’t grow our workforce and compete without solving the crisis.
As Secretary, I worked for years with a broad bipartisan coalition to achieve the most important zoning reform in 50 years — Housing Choice, which is why Monday’s vote will be subject to a simple not supermajority vote!
Zoning has been an exclusionary tool in our state and nation’s history, and we wanted to knock down zoning barriers. The phrase “community character” has an incredibly unfortunate history. I strongly recommend reading “The Color of Law” a remarkable book with a jarring subtitle – “A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America”. Our government (federal, state, local) did just that, and it’s time to stop.
The bill that brought Housing Choice also brought MBTA Communities, a statute that charged “the department” (DHCD, reporting to me) with developing compliance guidelines. We worked for months, again with a broad coalition, to develop the policy, which has enormous potential. More housing near transit and in downtowns is hugely positive in 5 areas — housing, transportation, climate, economic development, and diversity. Article 34 doesn’t just get us in compliance, it allows Lexington to do what we’ve always aspired to do – lead.
Good housing proposals routinely die due to fear of change, and amendments. I hope Town Meeting passes these Articles as written today.