Walsh files legislation on housing, economic equity
Legislative package includes protection for elderly tenants, new liquor licenses
Mayor Martin Walsh introduced the first of four legislative packages he plans to submit to the Massachusetts legislature on Monday, containing 14 bills relating to housing security and economic equity.
“Housing and economic mobility are linked: a stable home allows residents to pursue opportunities,” Walsh said in a statement. “We are doubling down on economic mobility by supporting small businesses, many of them owned by women, immigrants and people of color, reforming parts of the system that create barriers that keep people in poverty, and providing new pathways to good jobs.”
The bills will be submitted to the state legislature by Jan. 18, the deadline for filing.
The legislation package Walsh administration officials made public Monday contained six bills related to housing security, with the intention of supporting the growth of affordable housing and tenant protections.
Currently, one in five housing units in the city is restricted to tenants with no income to moderate incomes.
“Until we have enough affordable housing for everyone, we have to make sure residents are protected,” said Sheila Dillon, chief of housing and director of neighborhood development, speaking during a press briefing last week.
The first bill, which was submitted on Monday, would allow the city to adjust “linkage” fees developers must pay on commercial developments of more than 100,000 square feet that require zoning relief. The funds derived from these fees are disbursed by the Neighborhood Housing and Neighborhood Jobs trusts to support affordable housing and job training programs. The change would allow the city to adjust the amount developers must pay as needed, instead of every three years, as the current law stands.
The package also includes a bill that would provide low-income tenants with court-appointed attorneys in eviction proceedings, as well as form a task force to create an implementation plan for this law. The bill is supported by tenant advocacy groups and organizations such as the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.
“It’s more costly to deal with a poor family after they have lost their home,” Dillon said, citing healthcare, housing and employment as reasons why the mayor’s office is working hard on this bill.
Another bill would give incorporated tenant associations the right to collectively purchase their residential rental properties at a fair market value before the properties are put on the market, protecting tenants from losing their homes under new landlords.
“Some of the largest displacements occur when buildings change hands,” Dillon said.
Other bills include an act to prohibit no-fault eviction of tenants 75 years and older, an act that would increase Community Preservation Act funding and an act that would write Boston’s Inclusionary Development Policy, which promotes the production of affordable housing, into the city’s zoning code. The tenant protections for those 75 and older includes a cap on rent increases of 5 percent a year.
The second set of eight bills in the first legislative package focus on economic equity and mobility. These bills would make it easier for less-advantaged citizens to take advantage of economic opportunities in the city.
The first bill would replicate Boston’s Tuition-Free Community College program statewide. The program, which currently serves 295 students at Bunker Hill, Roxbury and MassBay Community Colleges, provides the “last dollar” in funding for tuition and fees at these colleges for students who have received Pell grants.
Another bill would lift the cap on assets for families receiving temporary cash assistance, allowing poor families to save money without losing benefits. Eight other states have eliminated this cap and have seen positive results.
“We know that an incentive to save for college and other savings is important for empowerment,” said Trinh Nguyen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development.
The package also contains an act that would raise the number of liquor licenses available, and prioritize them to areas that would benefit economically from more restaurants.
Chief of Economic Development John Barros explained that this has been done before, though with less-than-satisfactory results.
“We learned that some neighborhoods are not as ready as others to increase full-service restaurants on their streets,” Barros said, naming Mattapan as one area where the available extra liquor licenses went unused.
He explained that the difference this time would be a lower price for the licenses to mitigate risk and that the licenses would not go away if not used. The city will also introduce a new “umbrella”-type license for larger developments that may have multiple restaurants, such as Dorchester’s South Bay Center, to protect smaller business ventures from losing out on the available licenses.
Other bills in the legislative package would raise the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 50 percent, returning money directly to low- and moderate-income families; require state contractors to consider an employer’s record of workplace law compliance; require companies with more than 100 employees to report gender and race information for employees in management and provide professional development services to improve ratings at companies where there are disparities; repeal the “Cap on Kids” policy that denies resources to children conceived while, or soon after, a family is receiving benefits; and create a statewide commission on tourism investment.
Walsh is expected to release more legislative packages, containing bills related to education, the environment, transportation and other areas, starting later this week.