Housing: A Common Challenge In Need of a Collaborative Solution

By Representative Christine P. Barber

Signs of the housing crisis in our communities of Somerville and Medford are everywhere. Most of us know a family who has been displaced due to high rents and moved to another community, or we ourselves are unable to afford rent or buy the type of housing we need. Housing near good jobs and transportation is getting more and more out of reach for middle-income families. And for people with low-incomes or disabilities, it can be nearly impossible to find appropriate housing.

Housing access and affordability are issues that I hear most consistently as a burden to families’ wallets and minds. It’s a common thread, one that impacts all types of people–families with children, seniors, people with disabilities, young people, and others.

But what is being done to address housing affordability?

Somerville and Medford are taking bold action, including passing transfer fee legislation (Somerville) that would charge 1% of the sale of a home for people who are not owner-occupants, and raising the inclusionary zoning percentage (Medford) to up to 15% to ensure that new developments include a proportion of affordable units. Changes like these are critical steps to address our housing challenges locally.

But Somerville and Medford can’t tackle this massive challenge alone. The entire region needs to take action to address the housing crisis. We need a statewide approach.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Housing in the State House, I am working with colleagues in the House and Senate to put forward needed updates to our state housing rules. One is the Governor’s “Housing Choices” plan, which takes only one small steps toward a housing solution by making it easier for communities to make local zoning changes. We need a broader solution, and there are a few bills that I sponsored that take bolder steps to help individuals and families secure affordable and accessible housing:

• Incentivizing Multi-family Housing: In many communities, local planning barriers to building any multi-family housing have made the areas off-limits to working families and those with low- and moderate incomes. I introduced a bill that would create housing for people with a range of incomes by requiring at least one district where multifamily housing can be built in cities and towns that have public transit access like subways, buses and commuter rails.
• Banning “Exclusionary” Zoning: I filed a bill that would update state fair housing and civil rights laws to add protections for affordable housing, and make it illegal for communities to make housing decisions that discriminate against new affordable housing. Many communities find ways to limit affordable housing purely because it’s serving people with low-incomes.
• Accessory Dwelling Units: The affordability crisis is particularly severe for people with disabilities, who have more limited options due to accessibility needs. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are independent living spaces built as part of or directly adjacent to single-family homes. I filed a bill to allow ADUs, a good option for elders and people with disabilities to have their own accessible space but live near others to provide support and care.
• Updating our Accessibility Requirements: Working with local advocates, I filed a bill to ensure that people with disabilities have options for accessible housing. This bill would align our state building codes with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and close loopholes that create barriers to housing and employment for people with disabilities in Massachusetts.

I am working to move each of these bills through the legislative process quickly, because I know that time cannot be wasted. Every day, families are struggling to find housing or to stay in their homes. Families are being forced to choose between housing and medication, housing and food, or housing and school supplies. I believe that these bills are integral parts of the statewide solution, and I hope that you will join me in supporting them.

22 thoughts on “Housing: A Common Challenge In Need of a Collaborative Solution”

  1. Lynne you are spot on I received my second happiness survey. Its another means of the Mayor trying to ensure he addresses any issue that might make you happy or mad.

    He uses all the information gathered by all has s statisticians for his political gain. Not to better the community as its needed.

    He speaks out of both sides of his mouth crying at the MBTA rally about density and his administration is the biggest offender causing the problem.

    Keep at your fight the war is quietly just beginning.

  2. Everyone has to understand the problem first. Then they are more likely to solve it. The solution is not to unfairly place the burden on one small group as we are all in this together.

    Many things have increased in price – food, clothing, medical care, tuitions, autos, and yes housing. Connecting the dots its all related to inflation. The money supply has been continually inflated for decades. Thus its not a city or state issue, it a national issue. It is not a political issue as both big parties have dug this mess which goes back to 1913.

    Back to housing. Its a supply and demand issue.

    Household size has been going the way of less people per household.

    More people want to live in the cities than outside if the city. Housing is cheaper outside of the city. Suburban housing has open space, parking, running water, electricity, and trees. The bonus is more space for their money.

    Toss in NIMBYism where those who are in the city do not want to be more crowded.

    The city has done more than its fair share of 40B. Around 91 percent of the 351 communities have not done their fair share.

    I hope that some people are exploring:
    micro apartments;
    allowing basements to be apartments;
    allowing big singles to be converted to multi units.

  3. My family and now I have owned a three family in somerville for over 60 years. We have always treated our tenants fairly, purposely keeping rents well below Somerville’s inflated rents for the past number of years.

    Now the city is waging a war against contractors buying multi family homes and converting them to condos. These are the very individuals that caused market values to skyrocket, putting large amounts of money in city hands due to rising property taxes. Now the city is claiming to be champions of protecting availability of rental property. Since I have been told that these condo laws have been on the books for years, I have to wonder how the city allowed the building of condos to get to the point it is now. Makes me wonder if the city ignored the laws and got rich off of rising property taxes and extorted money from the contractors seeking to build condos.

    This new posture by the city will eventually lower property values for owners like myself and result in people like myself to have to increase rents to help recover lost equity. Seems to me that the city did not think this through because they will eventually lose tax revenue due to falling market values and if rent control comes in, it will drive people like myself out of the city. Do not fix what is not broken, there are plenty of rental units in the city.


  4. Condo conversons have greatly improved the condition of Somerville’s housing stock. Condos have become the first home purchase for Somerville’s renters. Condo conversion brings big $$ to the city, in permitting, and higher real estate revenues. The City should not be trying to control the market thinking it should have the power to decide what should happen in terms of home ownership. Meanwhile, in a housing crisis, no one is looking out for average renters. All the emphasis is on ‘low-income’ affordable. As the City claims it does not want larger ‘family’ units broken down, the new ordinance restricting adding on a ‘new’ rental unit in RB districts, along with ferce restrictions on 3rd story, dormers, etc. virtually guarantee breaking up larger units. What renters truly need is additional units and MORE square footage available. The current RB zoning is being eliminated. In the new zoning, 3 units are no longer allowed ‘by right’. Many hundreds of 1 and 2 family homes in RB zoning now, can by right add 1 or even 2 units. If the city sincerely wanted to promote easing of the rental market, the City would recruit and engage property owners to build those units. No upfront acquisition cost (developers buy and tear down-creating the most expensive rental unit possible and out of reach of the vast majority of middle income renters) produces a more affordable rental unit – and also one that could one day become a condo for sale. In the same breath they’re approving downzoning and limiting housing, the city is allowing ADU (additional dwelling unit) – which is highly unlikely to ever be built, and cannot become a first ownership opportunity. Why? It’s illogical. These measures give the City essentally total control over private property. The City is purchasing prvately owned multis and taking them out of the general rental pool, further tightening supply. Anyone with a one or two family in RB now should be outraged that the city is diminishing the value of their property. The new condo ordinance would affect values also. But the downzoning will forfeit a huge value – when you cannot build a 3rd unit (say = $500k), and cannot sell that 3rd unit potential to a developer. When your property no longer has it’s current potential, the buyer pool will be greatly minimized, as will the market value of the property. The City has sent no notification of any of these changes. Not the downzoning. Not the transfer tax. Not the condo ordinance. In Somerville, many owners live out of the city. While the City claims it wants an inclusive process – how can it be inclusive when property owners have no knowledge, hence, no voice, and no representation. My property is my retirement, and I am greatly damaged by the proposed new zoning. There needs to be written an exemption for current long term owner occupied properties – we are not investors. We are residents and are being unjustly penalized by the City.

  5. The prices have gone up for practically everything. The plumbers, the electricians, the contractors, the property taxes, water and sewer, insurance. Its all up in price. Many of those listed above have seen their prices increase so they pass the increased prices along. The choice comes down to basic math for the new owner. In many cases the costs to renovate are not covered in new higher rents & they are condo’s and sold to owner occupants. Condos are a way for home ownership which is the American dream.

    The people need to decide if they want more owner occupied condos or keep the existing rental housing stock. If it comes out to keeping the existing rentals I suggest working with the owners of the current multi owners and the new multi owners.

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