Incorruptible Mass

Healey's Housing Bond Bill - what's in it and why it's not enough

October 24, 2023 Anna Callahan Season 5 Episode 28
Healey's Housing Bond Bill - what's in it and why it's not enough
Incorruptible Mass
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Incorruptible Mass
Healey's Housing Bond Bill - what's in it and why it's not enough
Oct 24, 2023 Season 5 Episode 28
Anna Callahan

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Today we talk about the $4B housing bond bill. You may think it allocates $4B to affordable housing, but in fact, our state has cut funding for affordable housing, rental assistance, and the unhoused. This bill simply allows the state to go into up to $4B of debt that will potentially be used for affordable housing. Listen in to hear more about the policies in this bill and why they are not enough.

Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 24. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Show Notes Transcript

Please donate to the show!

Today we talk about the $4B housing bond bill. You may think it allocates $4B to affordable housing, but in fact, our state has cut funding for affordable housing, rental assistance, and the unhoused. This bill simply allows the state to go into up to $4B of debt that will potentially be used for affordable housing. Listen in to hear more about the policies in this bill and why they are not enough.

Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 24. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Hello and welcome to Incorruptible, Mass. We are here so that we can all together transform state politics. We know that we could have a state Massachusetts that truly reflects the needs of the vast majority of the residents of our beautiful commonwealth.

Today, we are going to be talking about the housing bond bill, which includes a lot of policies and including a couple that we've been pushing for a while now, transfer fee, eviction sealing, accessory dwelling units, and a bunch of other policies. It also has some proposed budgets for expenditures on housing that we need, including public housing, affordable housing trusts, housing stabilization, and a bunch of other things. And so we are excited to get into this today.

But before we do, let me introduce my regular co hosts. I will start with Jordan. 

I'm Jordan Berg Powers. I use he him and I live in Worcester because that's what we can afford. So this is a good conversation.

And Jonathan. 

Jonathan Cohn he him his joining from Boston and had been one of the rare situations where my rent has barely gone up since 2013, which makes me afraid to ever move.

Anna Callahan. She her, coming at you from Medford, who had my rent go up 10%, two years in a row. Wow. Ouch. Makes me want to move immediately. 

So we are going to talk about housing and especially this bond bill.

So give us a little bit of background on who's proposing this bill. What stage is that? Where is it going to have to go after this, and what does it actually mean? 

Yeah, I'll just go really quickly. So Governor Healeys has proposed a $4 billion bond bill.

This came out of her new department with her new secretary on housing. This is a reminder, because what the press and the Healy administration would like you to believe is that we're spending $4 billion on affordable housing. But that is not what's happening.

In fact, the state cut money for affordable housing in its last budget. It cut money for people who are unhoused. It cut money for rental assistance.

So the state is going to spend less on making the state more affordable while it cut taxes for dead billionaires and day traders. What this does is it allows the Healy administration to go into the bond market and debt and say, we're going to pay debt. So we are going to debt ourselves.

We're going to not balance our budget. We're not going to raise taxes. We're going to actually cut taxes, and we're going to go into debt to maybe spend some money on affordable housing.

And this allows her to go into $4 billion the administration excuse me, to go into $4 billion of debt to spend on affordable housing. Almost never is the entirety of a bond bill actually spent. We only spend roughly about 10% of bond bills across all those spending because if we did that, we would be broke, and the bond bill spending is allowed for five years.

So, again, it's not going to be immediate. A lot of the bond bill I mean, I guess I don't know for sure how long, but most of the bond bills are about five years that they do affordable housing trust. And so that allows it for us to take out the debt or max out our credit cards over a long period of time and isn't an immediate spending.

So I think what they want you to hear is that we're going to spend $4 billion on affordable housing, but we are not going to do that. We actually cut money. And I think it's important to remember. 

I'm just going to jump in with a little bit of like when you take out bonds and debt like this, because we do not have a public bank in Massachusetts, which we have been trying to get for years and years and years.

That money, all of the interest on the debt and there are many different kinds of fees and all sorts of money that we spend to have that debt. That's all going to Wall Street banks, leaving the state instead of what could be happening if we had a public bank, which is that money basically staying in Massachusetts.

So just a little tidbit there about what it means when we do a bond rather than doing something else, and what it means to not have a public bank. 

Jonathan, anything else about specifically, just in general? About in general? 

I just think that's an excellent point from Jordan that over the past few years I always get annoyed whenever there's a bond bill and a lot of representatives and senators, actors of the money is already out the door. Because whenever you have a bond authorization, there's still a lot of work to make sure that the money actually gets spent.

And under Charlie Baker. It often wasn't. I think the Governor Maura Healey has more of an incentive in, more incentives in place than Baker did to actually want to spend the money.

But that still doesn't mean that the money being authorized means that it's getting spent. So it creates the potential to get a lot more in many areas, but there's still a lot of advocacy even after it passes. 

And does this have to go through the House? Does it have to go through the Senate? Does it have to get approval? Yes.

So the bond bill that Governor Healy put together gets sent over to the legislature was just on the, I just looked at the legislature's website, and it got sent to the Housing Committee. And they will have to hold a hearing on it. They might hold several, given the number of different pieces.

And then it has to get out of committee. It'll have to get kind of approved by Ways and Means, and then it would be formally voted on by the House and the senate. Great.

So we're going to talk a little bit about some of the policies. So I think overall, we could say, wow, we're excited that these policies are going to maybe make it into this bill, but these policies are perhaps not as good as the ones that we were hoping might get passed by the legislature. So this is, as often happens, the actual sort of preempting the legislature by providing something that is less good than we were hoping was actually going to get passed.

So why don't we start off with the transfer fee? 

Yeah, so I think it's important because there's a lot of press that, again, the Healy administration loves, which says that, oh, look, they're going to put a transfer fee. So a transfer fee is a small tax, some proposals, but roughly it's usually about 2% on any home sales that would go into a trust for affordable housing. This would really help us actually address affordable housing needs in our state.

And instead of getting a real transfer fee, the details came out. So the press has covered this. Politico said, like in a fight with the House and the Senate, Healey puts in a transfer fee.

And our state House News said, unsure of basically bold perspective on the transfer fee. And in fact, it's not the transfer fee. It's a really terrible version that the House and Senate would absolutely not pose because it basically will probably never get triggered.

So the transfer fee that Maura Healey is proposing is a transfer fee of the proposal in this bond bill is not the proposal that advocates want. Allow municipalities to add up to 2% transfer fee on home sales above a million dollars, or the median home price for single family and only for the amount above whatever is higher. So, for example, if you are in Newton, which according to one sort of site, realtor site, the median home price, median home price for needham is 1.2 million. Wellesley is 1.5 million, 1.6 million. Weston is 1.6. Watertown is just below.

But so you have all these places sort of in the suburbs that desperately need affordable housing. You could only tax at $1.6 million and only the sale price above $1.6M. So if it goes for $1.8M, you can only tax $200,000 at 2%. And that's only if they authorize it.

Only if they authorize, the city authorizes it. So it's really not going to trigger actually a lot of places quickly.

It's county, not municipality. Sorry.

Yes, it is county, not municipality. But I think it's still a problem. I think one of the big issues that I think of it the way that it's like, it clearly benefits, like, Boston's Home Rule Petition for the transfer fee.

It meets the parameters of that, it would get approved. It's like a $2 million threshold. And it's for stuff above that because in Boston, because you have enough sales going on any given time, you can still get money from doing that.

However, it doesn't serve well places like Martha's Vineyard because of how outrageously high the median kind of home sale price is there. And if you have to go to that which I was looking the other day for, I believe it's like 3 million or something like that, that's the price. It severely limits what you can do if you're on the Vineyard.

And the housing prices are also exorbitantly high because it pushes you well above the million threshold and it similarly weakens those in Western Mass. Communities like Amherst, for instance, where it would be pushed to the 1 million level when you don't have as many properties that are selling for that, even though they have a housing crisis. I know in the bill filed this session on the transfer fee, one of the things that that coalition had done was make sure that there's language to make it so that the bill can still kind of easily apply in a lot of Western Mass.

Where you just simply don't have property values hitting a million as you do kind of in the kind of Boston and its suburbs, and you still want them to be able to benefit from it. And so that there was enough language put in that to be able to have a lower threshold kick in for some of the communities in western Mass. And this proposal puts them in back at a higher threshold, which many of them simply just won't be able to raise as much money from.

All right, let's take a look at eviction sealing. So like, eviction sealing is one thing that I found disappointing, how the terms of the debate have kind of gotten weaker and narrower across sessions. So one thing that’s important to recognize is that when people do have an eviction record, that can stay with them for life and it can make it difficult for them to get housing in the future because those are all public records.

There's a large database of all kind of the eviction data for people. Even if, let's say if you had a no fault eviction that can still harm you in the future. If you are a child and you've heard of your parents get evicted even though you're not the one who is paying rent, that can still make it more difficult for you in the future.

So one thing that started after that kind of a few years ago was the discussion of sealing eviction records, of creating a process, especially in those cases where it's no fault, but even for cases where there is fault, you create a timeline by which you could get them sealed so that doesn't stay with you forever. The thing that it is both nice to see progress made on that, but also disappointing with how the language doesn't have anything. It's not an automated process to the extent that it needs to be because ultimately you don't want people to have to petition a court to be able to get those records sealed.

Because whenever you have multi step processes around sealing records and this is something that also happens in the criminal justice space as well, that when you make sealing a record a burdensome and bureaucratic process, you don't have as many records sealed as really should be. The thing that I've also just found disappointing in this space in general is that the legislature passed eviction sealing language back on January 6, 2021. I can remember the last date of the session because although check include January 5, they still prevented and then Charlie Baker vetoed it and they haven't taken it up since.

I can't remember the exactness of that legislation. I know the legislation filed in that session was much stronger, but it's been disappointing to see that it not see the quick follow up progress that I would have liked to see, and to see it put up bureaucratic hurdles that will make fewer people be able to directly benefit and quickly benefit. I always think about the complete imbalance of information available for tenants and for landlords.

I mean, imagine if every landlord had to display how many times they have had like a health violation, how many times there was a necessary appliance that didn't work, and for how many days, how many times we had a gas leak in our house. We reported it to the guy and to not the landlord, but his helper guy, and months went by. They didn't do anything.

Wouldn't it be nice to know if your landlord has evicted like three different tenants? Wouldn't it be nice to know all the things that can really have an impact on your daily life as tenants? We never have any ability to know that, but landlords get to see everything, your entire financial history, and you're imagine the world if we got to have some information about the kind of person under whose control we will be. Yeah, I'll just go really quickly to accessory dwelling units, which appears actually to be a not bad part to it. This would actually fix something that's happening in Worcester right now.

So it permits ADUs above 900 by right in single family zoning districts at all communities and prohibits owner occupancy requirements as well as mandates within a half mile of transit. So it's not going to hit a lot of the communities. Unfortunately, that should be just happening.

Those things should just be allowed accessory dwelling units everywhere. But there is a question of, like, can you mandate it across the state without the sort of thing? So I think it's probably the best you could get based on maybe some of the limitations about government and who can say what to zoning and so forth in every community. This is also just another reminder that all of these zoning requirements came about to keep black people and Jewish people from living next to you.

And when you hear a lot of these zoning requirements, remember that they went into place to redline to keep me from living near you. And that's why we see those persistent things. And so when people fight against them, what they're saying is, I don't like those types of brown people to live next to me, even as that might not be what they're saying.

That's the sort of origins of all these things. So I wish it went further. I think it probably went as far as it could, but I think those are good also.

Inclusionary zoning by simple majority is really good. Again, wish I had a little bit more, but I think that those are some really good things. Yeah.

Just to take in on that. That's making it easier to pass inclusionary zoning measures, I think, is a concept that got left out back a few sessions ago when the legislature had passed Charlie Baker's. Kind of like the MBTA communities law and some other zoning reforms that in the zoning performance that they changed there.

They made it easier to do various types of zoning changes, lowering the threshold from two thirds to one half. But this wasn't included. And I think that it is good for communities that do want to require more affordable housing to be built to allow them to do that by simple majority as opposed to two thirds.

I think that there are many communities that probably will never even want to get that because of how hostile they are. But making it easier for it to happen, it becomes if you're organizing a campaign to get an inclusionary zoning ordinance passed in your municipality, clearing a one half threshold is so much less daunting than passing a two thirds threshold. And I can tell you, as a zoning commissioner, that actually does come up a bunch.

The two thirds majority does make it difficult to do big projects, especially affordable housing projects. So it's not nothing. You have a lot of people who are just opposed to anything.

Making it easier does help it. One other quick thing that I would just note that I think would be that I thought was nice to see in the bill. It was just one provision.

I have to read the exact text. But makes it easier to kind of use kind of state owned land for housing. Because if you think about all of the properties that, say, a school that has been vacant for decades that's sitting somewhere or various old municipal buildings wouldn't be municipal, I guess, in this case.

But old state buildings that exist in different parts of the state that are just sitting just sitting there and not actually used to be able to streamline a process for getting housing convo will help actually make them have a productive and very socially beneficial use of that. Yeah. And we will post a link where you can read actually a ton of other policies that are included in this.

I just want to say again for the overall thing itself. So again, the Healy administration is getting big press for $4 billion, which is not nothing. It's more than we thought that they were going to do.

But this is, again, the soft bigotry of low expectations, according to the state itself. So the state did an assessment of how much money is needed to repair just its own things for affordable housing. And based on the state's own data for the Capital Planning system of the Department of Housing and Community Development, it needs approximately 8.5

billion in capital for basic responsibility for providing sustainable homes for people who live in public housing. So that means for the people who are currently in public housing, if they spent all of this money, which they're not planning to do on just the affordable housing stock that the state owns, it's 8.5 billion today.

And as Anna always reminds you, if it's 8.5 billion today, it's 10 billion tomorrow, it's 12 billion down the road. Because when you don't actually fix it and you just patch a little hole, it gets worse over the long run and then you put off those big capital things.

So while they are getting good press for this, just remind you it is far below the need that the state and again, this isn't our assessment. This isn't the way the media talks about it. Progressives Wish List this is the state's own assessment.

This is what the state says it needs to do, what the state needs to do to get this. It also won't meet the threshold that the 200,000 new affordable housing units that are required again, this is the state's own saying it needs 200,000 affordable units and that is today. So tomorrow we will probably need more than that and we will not get close to that.

So this is all just to say that these are really good things and they are also well below the state's own, the Healy administration's own assessment of what its own needs are. So it cut by half a random number, I'm guessing its own needs, and even all of the half are not going to the things it needs to do. Yep.

And I know we have a little bit of a short period of time today for this podcast. I just want to see if any of you guys want to talk specifically about the there's like 1.6 set aside for public housing, 800,000 set aside for an affordable housing trust, like 425,000 for housing stabilization.

Are there any particular pieces of this aside from just, hey, man, eight and a half billion is really what we need and we're getting 4 billion distributed among other more than what that should be designated for. My only comments is always just like, go big. We have a lot of money.

We need to spend a lot of money on that. We're an affluent state. If we want to address the cost of living in Massachusetts, we shouldn't be doing that through, let's say, like regressive tax cuts.

We should be doing that by making it more affordable to live here. Yeah, just as a reminder. So there's only a few counties in the country that have median sort of single family housing above a million dollars.

There's just a few in the whole country that are between 75, 750 and $100,000. And almost our entire state is those people. Like California.

But California is large. There's lots of places that don't know. It is also unaffordable.

And they have an unaffordability crisis, as everybody sort of on the coast do, but ours is particularly bad as a state. This is an unaddressed need and making it easier to transfer these without any sort of costs making it easier for wealth to be transferred without any sort of redistribution to people who need it and actually cutting the money for rent stabilization for unhoused people while then saying to the federal government we need money for housing people is a certain decision. And so this is a bond bill.

It is not a spending bill. We will not be spending this money. If we're lucky, we will spend most of it.

We don't know. And it's certainly not tomorrow, it's not when it gets passed. It's some far off time horizon.

And so I think it's always a good reminder when you're thinking about these that bond bills are not spending bills. All right, gang. Well, thank you so much.

Thanks, everybody, for listening. We hope that you have a little bit more info here on this bond bill from the Healy administration. And we look forward to talking with you all next week.