State Sen. Cindy FriedmanState Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington

Bill commissions study of practices of corporate landlords

The state Senate’s Affordable Homes Act sets course for the creation of thousands of new residential units, sweeping renovations of public and affordable housing, and protections for residents, its backers say.

The Massachusetts Senate has authorized borrowing $5.4 billion to address the state’s housing crisis, according to a news release from Stephen Acosta, spokesman for state Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, 4th Middlesex, who represents Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Lexington and Woburn.

S.2834, An Act relative to affordable homes — also known as the Affordable Homes Act — also makes crucial policy changes with the goal of building new housing, accelerating the rehabilitation of existing housing, reducing barriers to development and promoting affordable housing.

After robust debate, the Senate passed the legislation unanimously.

Because the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed separate bills, the two branches now must reconcile the differences before it can become law.

'Housing is interconnected to every other issue' 

“During my tenure in the Senate I have been focused on the health and well-being of our residents — and affordable, safe and accessible housing is directly linked to that effort,” said Friedman, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, in the release. “Housing is interconnected to every other issue that comes before the Legislature, whether it be the stability of our schoolchildren, supporting a sustainable workforce, and ensuring that our state economy thrives. This bill couples dollars with policy reforms to actively respond to the housing crisis we are facing and will impact the commonwealth for generations to come.”

Friedman said that she was particularly proud that an amendment she filed was adopted. The amendment commissions a study by the state attorney general, in consultation with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, into the practice of corporate landlords colluding to fix high rent prices through the use of algorithmic software. A 2022 investigation by ProPublica found that a real estate tech company used both public and private data in an algorithm that generates rental rate recommendations for landlords. There is evidence that hundreds of properties in Massachusetts use this technology.

The attorney general would be tasked with examining the prevalence and impact of this practice; the legality of such methods, including the use of non-public information in these algorithms; and any potential measures of disclosure, regulatory or legislative changes necessary to mediate the use of pricing algorithms.

The legislation makes important investments in public housing; housing affordability; sustainable building initiatives; initiatives for first-time homebuyers; essential infrastructure; geographic equity; and incentivizing local best practices. Additionally, the bill includes policy proposals to further housing equity for both homeowners and renters.

According to Friedman's staff, the bill contains $5.4 billion in bond authorizations, including the following:

Creating and repairing public housing

The Senate Affordable Homes Act provides $2.2 billion for repairs, rehabilitation and renovation across the 43,000 units of state-aided public housing. This significant investment ensures that the state's public-housing infrastructure remains safe, modern and sustainable, so it can continue providing quality living conditions for thousands of families.

To ensure that the commonwealth makes strides towards its climate goals as it creates housing, $150 million of the funding for public housing is specifically allocated to making energy-efficient upgrades.

Spurring affordable-housing units

A further $425 million will go to the Housing Stabilization and Investment Trust Fund, working with municipalities, non-profits and developers to support housing preservation, new construction and rehabilitation projects for affordable rental units. This will help the longevity and sustainability of affordable housing stock, addressing both immediate needs and long-term housing solutions.

It additionally adds $800 million into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to create and preserve housing for households with an income at or below 110 per cent of area median income, helping to bridge the gap between the high cost of housing and what many families can afford.

Building sustainably

This bond bill includes $275 million for innovative, sustainable and green housing initiatives. By finding new ways to build that don’t have such a detrimental environmental impact, these initiatives will help pave the way for a greener housing portfolio in Massachusetts and will be an important part of the state’s response to the climate crisis.

Supporting first-time homebuyers in gateway cities

The Senate Affordable Homes Act authorizes $200 million for the CommonWealth Builder program to further the production of housing in gateway cities for first-time homebuyers. This initiative supports economic development in these cities, helping families achieve homeownership and contributing to the revitalization of urban areas.

The legislation also includes $50 million for MassDreams, a program that provides down payment and closing cost grants to first-time homebuyers who meet the program's eligibility criteria and who currently live in one of the 29 communities that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maintaining essential infrastructure

The bill provides $375 million for HousingWorks, a program that awards grants to municipalities and other public entities for a variety of infrastructure-related support. Improving essential infrastructure supports the health and safety of residents and the feasibility of new housing projects.

 Of this amount, $100 million will be dedicated to addressing water, sewer and septic challenges tied to housing developments, and $100 million will help incentivize best practices in communities that have adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and are spending a high percentage of those funds on housing, as well as MBTA communities that are going beyond the minimum requirements set forth in the MBTA zoning law passed in 2021. Communities that have been proactive in creating transit-oriented development, which reduces traffic congestion and promotes sustainable urban growth, will be eligible.

Addressing regional equity

The legislation includes $150 million in dedicated funds to address the unique housing needs of rural towns, seasonal communities and mid-sized communities. This ensures that all areas of the state, regardless of size or location, have the resources to meet their specific housing challenges.

 According to Friedman's office, the Senate’s Affordable Homes Act also contains multiple policy proposals to go hand in hand with the new authorizations:

Protecting tenants from broker fees

By requiring that real estate brokers’ fees be paid solely by the party that contracted with them, this legislation ensures that buyers are not burdened with unexpected and extraordinary costs. It also promotes transparency and fairness in real-estate transactions.

Establishing equity-focused housing offices

The Office of Fair Housing and the Office of Livable Communities and Community Services will be established under the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities. These offices will set the commonwealth on a path to address many decades of housing discrimination by prioritizing equity issues in housing across the commonwealth, ensuring equal access to housing opportunities for all residents, and offering technical assistance to cities and towns that can sometimes lack dedicated housing staff.

Eviction-record sealing

The bill introduces a process for tenants to seal their eviction records in cases of no-fault evictions and other limited scenarios. This policy protects vulnerable tenants from the long-term stigma of eviction records, enhancing their ability to secure future housing and promoting housing stability.

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs)

The legislation prohibits the banning or unreasonable restriction of ADUs in single-family residential zones, promoting flexible housing options. This policy enables homeowners to create additional living spaces, increases housing supply and provides more affordable rental options within established neighborhoods.

Homeownership tax credit

This new tax credit will be available for the production of homeownership units for households that make up to 120 per cent of the area median income, incentivizing housing production and promoting homeownership opportunities.

May 31, 2024: State Senate budget has more money for Arlington

This announcement was published Thursday, July 4, 2024, based on information in a news release from Stephen Acosta, district director for local state Sen. Cindy Friedman. It was prepared for publication by longtime YourArlington volunteer Kim Haase.