Massachusetts advocates won significant housing victories during the recently concluded 2013-2014 session of the state’s biennial legislature. NLIHC State Coalition Partner, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), and its allies, celebrate passage of two important bills, one affecting state-supported public housing and another providing funding increases and initiatives for housing and community development programs.
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing developed a major state public housing reform bill after touring housing authorities and holding public hearings and stakeholder meetings. The bill passed both chambers on the last day of the session on August 1, and was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick (D) on August 6. Massachusetts is one of the few states that has its own public housing program.
The legislation creates significant opportunities for tenant participation and feedback. Each of the more than 240 state-supported local public housing authorities will be required to have at least one of its five board positions filled by an elected tenant representative. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will provide technical assistance to tenant board members and tenant organizations in order to enable full tenant participation in the oversight of a state housing authority’s operation and capital planning. State housing authorities will also be required to administer annual resident surveys. In addition, the law requires development of a centralized application and waiting list within one year, which will make it much easier for households to apply.
DHCD will develop performance-based monitoring for all state housing authorities. For chronically poor performing state housing authorities, DHCD is authorized to appoint a chief financial and administrative officer. DHCD will also create capital assistance teams to assist state housing authorities with capital planning and maintenance and repair planning. State housing authorities will be required to produce annual plans subject to public review, and all board members will participate in trainings every two years.
The legislation creates a regional pilot program designed to achieve increased coordination and cooperation among several housing authorities, foster innovative models for the development, redevelopment and repair of public housing, and increase economic efficiencies and opportunities.
“State Public Housing is a key part of the affordable housing delivery system in Massachusetts. We are eager to work with DHCD and other advocates to implement this reform and strengthen local housing authorities so they continue to provide quality affordable housing to families and individuals in need,” said Brenda Clement, CHAPA’s Executive Director and NLIHC Board Chair.
The second major piece of legislation was an economic development bill, also passed by the legislature on the last day of the session, and signed by the Governor on August 13. The legislation includes significant funding increases and initiatives for housing and community development programs.
The legislation provides $3 million for the Housing Preservation and Stabilization Trust Fund (HPSTF), a state trust fund created in July 2013. The intent of the HPSTF is to provide a flexible method for funding affordable housing for low income families and individuals, particularly those most at-risk of becoming homeless. DHCD administers the fund using money unspent at the end of the fiscal year by several housing and homelessness programs. The $3 million will supplement these sources. Advocates are seeking additional sources of funding for the HPSTF.
Since the HPSTF was established, DHCD has spent $7 million to create supportive housing units and $2 million to supplement HomeBase, a state program that provides emergency assistance to help families and individuals avoid or exit the shelter system. DHCD spent an additional $1 million on the Secure Jobs Initiative, a program that matches homeless, at-risk, and recently rehoused families and individuals with services to help them overcome barriers to work and connect with jobs that offer career pathways.
The legislation also creates and capitalizes at $16 million, the Gateway Cities Transformative Development Fund. In Massachusetts, Gateway Cities are midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies. These cities have stubborn social and economic challenges, but retain many assets, such as existing infrastructure, strong connections to transportation networks, and major institutions such as museums, hospitals, or universities. The legislation also doubles funding to $10 million for the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP), a program intended to create more housing for households of various income levels in order to diversify the income mix in Gateway Cities. At least 80% of the housing must be market rate rental targeted to households with incomes greater than 110% of the area median income. Together, HDIP and the Gateway Cities Transformative Development Fund are expected to expand diversity of housing stock, promote economic development, and revitalize and support residential, commercial, and institutional development in the Gateway Cities.
Another provision of the economic development legislation provides $10 million for the state’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund. A supplemental budget passed by the legislature earlier this year included an additional $15 million for the fund.
CHAPA’s Director of Public Policy, Rachel Heller said, “The Governor and legislative leaders have recognized that investing in affordable housing and community development programs is key to continued economic growth in Massachusetts. This funding in the economic development legislation and the earlier passage of a $1.4 billion housing bond bill are critical resources for us to address a growing need for affordable housing statewide.”