It’s cold outside, but things are heating up fast on Beacon Hill
The Gateway Cities Journal
The legislature is back for the final six months of the 2023-2024 session, and the FY 2025 budget process is in full swing. On Wednesday, Gov. Healey presented her second budget. While managing through the first difficult fiscal year in a long time, the administration’s blueprint makes bold investments in Gateway Cities. Here’s a quick summary of what we see from our perch on Beacon Street:
- Gov. Healey’s calling for a new “Gateway to Pre-K” program that would provide universal, high-quality preschool access for all Gateway City four-year-olds by 2026. This proposal furthers an aspiration that Gateway City leaders collectively voiced in the 2013 Gateway Cities Education Vision. In addition to providing educational opportunity to low-income students, the Vision argues that ensuring all students have a strong start is essential to the performance of economically-integrated schools in inclusive urban communities. For middle-income families, access to free high-quality pre-K is also a draw to Gateway Cities, promoting integration in urban schools that are increasingly segregated by income.
Facing tighter housing markets, more middle-income families are looking at Gateway Cities today. This flow seems to be relatively modest, and not a significant driver of the sharp increases in housing prices that we’re seeing. To be sure, we must build housing in Gateway Cities to prevent displacement, but promoting integration in neighborhoods and schools remains a major policy goal that Gateway to Pre-K will significantly further.
- T staff formally presented a long-awaited low-income fare program to the board this week. The proposal cuts fares on all modes by 50 percent for those with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The T’s analysis suggests the discount will increase ridership by approximately 30 percent, but they appear to be basing this estimate from a study of Boston-area bus riders; the agency has not provided details by mode or station area. Under the proposal, riders from Gateway Cities like Worcester with annual income under $30,000 would still be asked to pay nearly $200 per month. Low-income subway riders in Boston would contribute just $30 per month. Meetings for public comment will be held in Brockton, Lowell, and Worcester in the coming weeks. MassINC intends to explore, in partnership with rail advocates, ways to structure more fair commuter rail pricing in 2024.
- MassINC released new research looking at public safety trends in Massachusetts since the passage of landmark criminal justice reform legislation in 2018. As reported by CommonWealth Beacon, the findings show the state outpaced the nation reducing incarceration, moderated correctional spending, and invested a considerable amount of money in behavioral health, crime prevention, and community development. This helped the commonwealth avoid some of the worst pandemic impacts on public safety, but rising youth crime is still a challenge and some cities are facing especially worrisome trends.
With the state encountering fiscal issues, there’s fear that the legislature may pull back on crucial programs to reduce gang involvement. Gov. Healey’s budget proposal cuts the new Community Empowerment Reinvestment Grant Fund by half. Fortunately, it sounds like the administration is looking for creative ways to avoid disrupting the flow of funds to grassroots community groups that have been building capacity with this new resource.
- The team at EOHLC hosted two meetings with developers this week on the expanded Housing Development Inventive Program (HDIP). The state is eager to use this more powerful tool to spur production in Gateway Cities. With several funding rounds planned for 2024, developers will be able to access credits on a near rolling basis. This was welcome news for cities eager to accelerate construction on long-awaited projects. MassINC intends to monitor program implementation and work with EOHLC to ensure that the program continues to effectively support market-rate housing in cities where that remains challenging, and mixed-income housing in stronger markets.
- With the February 7th Joint Rule 10 deadline for reporting bills out of committee approaching, Gateway City mayors voice collective support for the Downtown Vitality Act, , Gov. Healey’s Affordable Homes Act, and a bill making smart investments in regional transit agencies.
- The MassINC Gateway Cities Innovation Institute and the LEADS network teamed up for a housing discussion with Sec. Augustus and Gateway City leaders at Babson College on Tuesday. They had a lively conversation about how Gateway City leaders can help the Commonwealth meet its housing goals. Highlights included creative ideas on growing the skilled trades workforce, monetizing the connection between housing and improved health outcomes, and wealth-building with more robust state policy to help low- and moderate-income residents access homeownership.
This meeting was the Institute’s second recent collaboration with LEADS. By partnering with this growing network, we hope to bring more Gateway City voices to the fore of state policy development.
The Gateway Cities Innovation Institute strengthens connections across communities and helps Gateway City leaders advance a shared policy agenda. Click here to sign up for the biweekly Gateway Cities Journal to receive updates on current policy issues impacting Gateway Cities across the state.