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.