Local Housing Authorities Lobby on Beacon Hill for More Money to Reduce Waiting Lists

(File photograph.)

There are 160,000 people in Massachusetts on waiting lists for public housing, according to housing authority representatives who visited the State House Thursday to ask for more state money and a larger role in helping the state tackle its affordable housing problem.

Speakers at the lobby day held by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials also called for the production of more public housing units.

“What we have here is what we already know, is that we have an affordable housing crisis in Massachusetts and throughout the country, and when I think of these staggering waiting list numbers, I always say to myself, what’s the solution?” said the organization’s board President Brian Costello, the executive director of the Watertown Housing Authority. “And for me, it always comes back to Kevin.”

That’s not Housing Committee Co-chair Rep. Kevin Honan, Costello noted, but actor Kevin Costner—more specifically, Costner’s character Ray in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” who hears a mysterious voice in his cornfield instructing him, “If you build it, he will come.”

Costello said there is an “absolutely phenomenal” demand for affordable housing in Massachusetts, and building more affordable housing is part of the solution. The message Costello said he hears, whispered by his housing authority predecessors, is “If you can build it, they’re already here.”

MassNAHRO’s members, which include 242 local housing authorities and four community development agencies, own or manage 43,000 state public housing units and 38,000 federal public housing units.

Gov. Charlie Baker last week filed a bill that aims to spur housing production in communities across Massachusetts by lowering the threshold for certain municipal zoning changes from two-thirds to a simple majority. He filed a similar bill last session that never got a vote in the Legislature. Critics of the governor’s bill say it needs more explicit requirements to ensure the production of affordable housing.

Members who visited lawmakers asked them to boost the funding for state subsidies to public housing authorities to $72 million in fiscal 2020. Baker, in his spending plan for next year, recommended an appropriation of $65.5 million, the same amount included in this year’s budget.

According to MassNAHRO, this year’s budget included the first hike in subsidy funding after six years of level-funding at $64.5 million.

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