Mass. Is Spending $86M From The GE Headquarters Sale On Workforce Housing

A 2016 rendering of GE's then-proposed headquarters in Boston. (Courtesy of GE)
A 2016 rendering of GE's then-proposed headquarters in Boston. (Courtesy of GE)

The Baker administration on Tuesday committed $86 million in funding from the sale of General Electric's headquarters in South Boston to the creation of workforce housing and homeownership opportunities for first-time buyers.

Gov. Charlie Baker outlined plans to invest $60 million in the creation of about 500 new homes that will be affordable to moderate-income, first-time home buyers. About 260 new workforce rental units will be supported with the remaining $26 million, according to the governor's office.

Baker made the announcement in Olmsted Green in Mattapan, where workforce housing is being built at the former Boston State Hospital site as part of a partnership between Lena Park Community Development Corporation and the New Boston Fund.

The governor said the spending builds on his administration's investment of more than $1 billion into affordable housing since taking office in 2015.

"We are proud to add an additional $86 million of funding targeted towards middle-income families, and we will keep advocating for the passage of the Housing Choice legislation to boost the production of much-needed units," Baker said in a statement.

Baker is still working to convince the Legislature to take up his housing bill that would make it easier for cities and towns to waive local zoning restrictions for the creation of additional housing.

The additional funding for an expansion of the Workforce Housing Initiative came from General Electric's sale in May of its Fort Point headquarters site for $252 million to Alexandria Real Estate Equities and National Development.

As part of the company's downsizing plan, the company sold off the property and reimbursed the state more than $87 million for the public investments that went into the initial project to lure GE — and its promise of 800 new jobs — to South Boston. The company will still maintain a smaller headquarters in the city.

The administration was able to reallocate the funding without legislative approval because the money had originally come from a bond authorization to the MassWork's program, according to officials in the governor's office and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. MassWorks gave a grant to MassDevelopment to redevelop the GE site, and the Baker administration is now redeploying the money to MassHousing through an existing authorization in last year's housing bond bill.

MassHousing since the 2016 launch of the Workforce Housing Initiative has committed or closed on workforce housing financing totaling $73.4 million connected to 31 projects spread across 16 communities, according to the administration.

The governor's office described the initiative as "the largest state-level middle-income housing program in the United States."

Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, and Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat, both joined Baker for the announcement and offered their support.

"Homeownership is an important step in addressing the wealth gap in communities of color. I commend Governor Baker for this bold initiative that will provide economic resources that will have impact today and for future generations," said Gonzalez, chair of the Black and Latino Caucus.

MassHousing is still deciding where it will allocate the funding, according to a Housing and Economic Development official, but plans to concentrate spending on the "urban core" of Boston and Cambridge and "Gateway Cities."

Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, filed legislation that would have redirected the reimbursed funding from the GE site sale to vocational-technical school construction, equipment and programs. In response to the Baker plans outlined Tuesday, Lesser said he would continue to advocate for more funding for vocational education.

"It’s always important to make investments in more affordable housing, and this is a worthy initiative. But a statewide crisis in workforce development remains and thousands of jobs are needlessly going unfilled. We need to close the waitlists at our vocational schools, and I will continue to advocate for action to that end," Lesser said in a statement to the News Service.

Lesser's bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which he co-chairs, but the bill (S.2193) has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

This article was originally published on July 09, 2019.

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