Gateway City leaders testify before committees weighing neighborhood stabilization bill
The Gateway Cities Journal
Wednesday night’s unanimous House vote in favor of the Student Opportunity Act was a watershed moment. Gateway Cities owe a debt of gratitude to education committee chairs, Representative Alice Peisch and Senator Jason Lewis, who skillfully crafted this truly historic legislation and built buy-in among the membership of both branches. We will have much more to say on this as the bill moves to the Governor’s desk. In the meantime, we devote this installment of the journal to the diligent work of two other committees: Revenue and Community Development.
Gateway City leaders appeared before these committees this week to enlist their support for an Act Relative to Neighborhood Stabilization. The product of a collaborative effort led by MassINC, the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, and the Gateway Cities legislative caucus, the bill provides tools and policy changes to help strengthen residential neighborhoods struggling with the ill effects of blighted and abandoned property.
The Revenue Committee, co-chaired by Pittsfield Senator Adam Hinds, heard the bill on Tuesday. Testimony from Lynn Senator Brendan Crighton and others largely addressed the increase in the Housing Development Incentive (HDIP) program, one of several changes the bill seeks to accomplish. Proponents pointed to MassINC research demonstrating how HDIP creates housing stock that would not otherwise get built with very modest public subsidy. These new market-rate housing units increase the socioeconomic diversity of high poverty neighborhoods, adding purchasing power to support grocery stores, restaurants, and other services that provide amenities for all residents, helping to stabilize weak real estate markets and shore up municipal finances.
In nearly two hours of testimony before the Community Development Committee, co-led by Methuen Senator Diana DiZoglio, proponents mostly addressed the bill’s spot blight eminent domain section. New Bedford Representative Antonio Cabral was joined by Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and a host of other Gateway City leaders frustrated by how difficult it has become to obtain and rehab many vacant properties blighting residential neighborhoods.
From addressing concentrated poverty that fuels rising income inequality to maintaining public health and public safety, the arguments for doing more to preserve aging Gateway City housing stock are numerous; however, the most relevant to the news of the week is the fiscal implications for the Commonwealth in the context of the Student Opportunity Act.
Without adequate tools to rehab abandoned homes before the blight spreads, the residential tax base of Gateway Cities will erode, leaving taxpayers all across the state on the hook to pick up more of the significantly higher Foundation Budget cost. Because blighted properties affect the valuation of all of the surrounding homes, successful neighborhood stabilization efforts will keep the state from shouldering tens of millions of dollars in local aid payments year after year.
Housing & Economic Development
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