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Baker, Announcing Tweaks To Bill, Warns Mass. May Make 'Grave Mistake' On Housing Production

(Elise Amendola, File/AP)
(Elise Amendola, File/AP)

Gov. Charlie Baker said an "enormous amount" of young workers and families could be driven out of Massachusetts unless action is taken to address the state's housing shortage.

The Republican governor issued his warning at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast as he announced plans to propose a tweaked version of a housing production bill he advocated for last session.

"We are making a grave mistake with respect to creating the kind of future that we all want for the next act and the next generation that comes after us if we don't do our job and get back into the business of housing production," Baker said.

Backed by the real estate industry, the Massachusetts Municipal Association and some housing advocates, the bill Baker filed in November 2017 sought to reduce, from two-thirds support to a simple majority, the threshold for approving certain local zoning changes aimed at spurring housing production.

Baker said his new housing bill will be slightly different but "thematically" very similar. The governor did not provide specifics on what would change in a new bill either during his address or afterwards.

"We certainly got some guidance from the Legislature last year, and we'll incorporate some of the feedback we got, especially from the folks on the Housing Committee, into our filing," he told reporters.

While agreeing about the need for more housing production, lawmakers did not bring Baker's bill to the floor for a vote in either the House or Senate last session. Noting that Sen. Nick Collins and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz were in the audience Tuesday morning, Baker jokingly suggested the crowd gathered in a Westin Copley Place ballroom "tackle Collins and Michlewitz and just hold them down" to work on the bill.

Michlewitz, asked after the speech about revisiting Baker's housing proposal, said he thinks "there was a lot of good stuff in that bill last year," and that lawmakers are "still trying to get things situated" for the new session that began Jan. 2.

"Committees are just getting started, people are just moving into their offices," said Michlewitz, who was tapped on Feb. 14 to chair the committee that vets most major legislation before it reaches the House floor. "I think there's still a little ways to go in having a real game plan of laying out what we're going to do, but I think we'll hopefully get things done this session and we'll keep those conversations going."

Saying the State House can sometimes function like a "hall of mirrors," Baker said his administration "couldn't find anybody that was opposed to our bill" last session, but it still didn't pass.

Reps. Mike Connolly of and Denise Provost had both criticized the bill for lacking an affordability component. After House leaders didn't surface a housing production bill for debate during formal sessions last year, Connolly asked Speaker Robert DeLeo not to bring a bill to the floor during lightly attended informal sessions.

Asked about the concerns around affordability, Baker said affordability provisions were "baked into" a housing bond bill passed last year and that having sufficient housing supply is a component of affordability.

"Our big problem in Massachusetts right now, especially for young people and young families, is we just don't have any supply," he said. "Whenever anything goes on the market, because there's no supply, it gets bid up by those who are out there looking for a place to buy, and that just pushes everybody farther and farther away from where they work and then requires them to spend tons of time getting to and from work or to and from school, and this is just something we need to get done," he said.

Connolly, posting on Twitter Tuesday, said he was glad Baker is calling for a housing bill and hopes "this time it does more than just focus on production."

"Yes, we need regional production, and we also need tenant protections, new revenue, more public investment, and a commitment to end homelessness," he wrote.

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