Vargas Testifies in Support of Housing Reform; Calls Demand, Prices ‘Unacceptable’

Haverhill state Rep. Andy Vargas testified before the Housing Committee on a bill he co-filed relative to housing reform on May 14, 2019. (Courtesy file photograph)

State Rep. Andy Vargas this week testified before the Joint Committee on Housing in his latest quest to bring additional affordable units of housing to the City of Haverhill. Co-filing legislation with Housing Committee chairman Kevin Honan, Vargas asked his colleagues to allow local governments to revise zoning laws through a simple majority vote.

According to Vargas, Massachusetts is one of the few U.S. states to require a legislative supermajority to enact zoning reforms. As a result, local governing bodies often have the power to terminate development projects in communities that need the building boost.

“The housing crisis is our reality, but if we pass this bill, people across the Commonwealth will have greater access to affordable and stable homes, exclusionary zoning will be less prevalent and the American dream more possible,” Vargas tells WHAV in a statement.

Calling the current high demand for housing across the Merrimack Valley—and the steep price tags that come with it—“unacceptable,” Vargas said a minimum wage worker has to work “an unrealistic 84 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom rental at fair market value.”

This week’s testimony from Vargas came just days after Gov. Charlie Baker visited Haverhill to praise city leaders and Beacon Hill decision makers for their commitment to boost housing production as part of a new Housing Choice Community designation.

During a ceremony at downtown’s newly renovated Ellis Factory apartments, Baker Baker designated Haverhill and nine other cities “Housing Choice Communities” for paving the way for growth and development in a time of housing crisis.

“The goal here is to move in a direction,” Baker said during his visit. “In housing, literally for decades, we’ve been moving in the wrong direction. Doing nothing virtually guarantees that we continue to move in the wrong direction.”

The bill filed this week by Vargas and Honan sets a housing production goal of 427,000 new units by 2040, with a focus on transit-oriented developments, his office said.

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