Housing supply and demand


A housing crunch pressing in on eastern Massachusetts doesn’t get solved with a few strokes — even bold ones like Harborlight Community Partners’ new Boston Street Crossing project in Salem, which will provide a place to live for homeless or formerly homeless individuals.

Creating choices for families looking for clean, safe, affordable places to live can only happen with policies and programs that have a meaningful economic impact.

That’s why a housing bill that cleared the state House of Representatives late last month is encouraging. With a big bottom line, the bill allowing up to $1.7 billion in borrowing, applied over several years, would help fill many buckets used to build or revitalize housing for various groups across the commonwealth.

The bill’s biggest beneficiaries are local public housing authorities, which could be authorized to borrow up to $600 million for renovation, repairs and new construction. A trust managed by MassHousing to promote the building of new affordable units would be infused with up to $400 million in capital. That trust also supports first-time homebuyers.

Other key programs that would benefit from the housing bond bill include a fund that helps developers buy or preserve buildings to be used for affordable housing, and another that helps the elderly and those with disabilities repair and make upgrades allowing them to stay in their homes.

The bill replenishes a handful of tax credits as well, adding dollars to efforts to encourage developments for low-income families and restore polluted industrial sites.

It extends another tax credit meant to help local community development corporations deepen their coffers and broaden their reach — a point underscored by the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Merrimack Valley in a release cheering the passage of the housing bond bill

Money raised through the Community Investment Tax Credit — which offers a 50 percent credit to donors to groups such as the North Shore Community Development Coalition — has helped build 600 affordable housing units and stave off 1,300 foreclosures over the past four years, according to the United Way.

The tax credit’s renewal comes as just the right time, as many donors are expected to change their charitable habits in light of the federal tax reform, noted Michael Durkin, president of the regional United Way.

In a statement, Durkin said the bond bill, which moves to the other side of the Statehouse for consideration, addresses a persistent problem.

“Individuals and families need access to safe housing, quality child care and jobs that allow them to support themselves. But high housing costs, a lack of affordable housing production, and low wages create significant barriers to opportunity and jeopardize our future workforce and economy,” he said.

Fortunately, many of the state’s leaders, including Gov. Charlie Baker, also recognize this problem. Baker has made a goal of seeing 135,000 new affordable housing units created in the state during the next 17 years. To that end, he is encouraging cities and towns to take another look at zoning rules, and revise regulations to make it easier to develop housing.

As Baker noted during his State of the State address, the situation has worsened over decades, as new housing hasn’t matched demand. “The result has been predictable — a limited supply creates overheated demand and rising prices.”

And that leaves far too many people either unable to afford homes, or making impossible choices because they’re stretched too thin.

Once it’s passed the Senate and signed by Baker, the housing bond bill will help make a difference.

Original article via The Salem Evening News: