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Mass. Senate Committee Crafts Plan To Address Housing 'Crisis'

Many residents in Boston and across the rest of Massachusetts struggle to afford housing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)closemore
Many residents in Boston and across the rest of Massachusetts struggle to afford housing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A special committee of the state Senate is calling for action on a slate of issues that add up to what they say is a housing crisis facing Massachusetts.

"Across the commonwealth, low rates of housing production have not kept pace with population growth and need," said state Sen. Linda Dorcena-Forry. The Democrat, who represents Dorchester, led the committee, which announced its findings Wednesday at the State House.

The committee convened academics, community organizers and business leaders to develop a nine-point plan to tackle issues from foreclosures to homelessness.

Facing Gentrification In Massachusetts

The group's report calls for action on gentrification, among other issues. Massachusetts is described as having some of the highest rates of gentrification in the country, with increasing rents and property values in the face of "relatively stagnant" income growth.

"Although revitalization can bring in waves of improvement to a neighborhood, it often leads to displacement," the report reads.

The report lays out three remedies for gentrification. One calls for the creation of land trusts to allow community groups to own land "in perpetuity for public benefit."

The second calls for legislation that would allow cities and towns to create a "Homes Preservation Plan" for homeowners over 65 years who earn less than area median income.

Under such a plan, municipalities could offer tax deferrals to homeowners, in exchange for the right to purchase the homes (to create affordable housing) once they go on the market. Committee member André Leroux, executive director of Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, said deferred tax dollars would become equity for the municipality.

The third proposal cites Gov. Charlie Baker's plan to repurpose surplus state property and calls for the land to be used to build affordable housing.

Collegiate Clusters: Could 'Millennial Villages' Fix Housing?

The 38-page plan also urges the creation of "new housing models," including the idea of "millennial villages" for 20- to 34-year-olds "to help free up housing stock for working families."

One of the committee members is Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University's Dukakis Center, who has been advocating for colleges and universities to support the construction of millennial villages.

"Unfortunately, because we have so little housing for [graduate students] and very little graduate housing beside Harvard and MIT, those folks are taking over housing that was intended for folks in the communities," Bluestone said. "The whole idea of the millennial village ... is to come up with innovative ideas for housing that would be affordable, but also really exciting for young millennials."

He praised the committee's plan as a step forward in the struggle to fix the state's housing woes.

"I have never seen such an incredible group of experts and advocates come together in one place, to really ... come up with the finest comprehensive set of ideas around housing we have ever seen in the commonwealth's history," Bluestone said.

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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is a reporter in WBUR's newsroom. He joined the station after two years at The Standard-Times in New Bedford, where he cut his teeth covering immigration and business.

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