Housing

Housing

In my years providing constituent services at the State House, the housing cases were by far the most challenging. I worked in partnership with community organizations, municipal departments, greater Boston advocacy groups, and state agencies to help people facing housing insecurity, but addressing these situations one by one will never be enough -- we need to think bigger.

The housing affordability crisis in Somerville is part of a statewide problem and requires statewide solutions. I strongly support legislative efforts to provide homelessness prevention and assistance services, expand housing access, and protect tenants. 

Homelessness Prevention and Assistance

We need to expand services for residents facing homelessness. Working closely with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, I helped draft and file legislation to increase upstream homelessness prevention assistance (H.1312) and to improve housing assistance for children and families experiencing homelessness (H.145). 

The first bill would codify the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) homelessness prevention program into state law and ensure that benefits are available to families and individuals earlier in a housing or utility crisis ("upstream"). The bill also seeks to streamline access, improve transparency and cross-agency collaboration, and allow households to access up to twelve months of assistance, without arbitrary dollar caps.

The second bill would address access and administrative issues for families and children seeking to access or retain Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter and HomeBASE rehousing benefits by allowing families who appear to be imminently at risk of homelessness to gain admission into Emergency Assistance shelter. It also would prohibit the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities from turning families away due to lack of documentation, and mandate that EOHLC look for that documentation themselves in existing state benefits databases. This would avoid unnecessary delays and burdens on already-vulnerable families. Finally, the bill would establish an independent ombudsperson unit to mediate between EA and HomeBASE participants/applicants and EOHLC.

I also support legislation to ease access to Mass IDs for people experiencing homelessness (the Everyone Needs ID bill), establish a bill of rights for people experiencing homelessness, and put the HomeBASE program into state law. 

Expanded Housing Access 

We need to use every tool at our disposal to increase our housing supply, especially our affordable housing supply. That means establishing statewide housing production goals, requiring additional multifamily zoning around public transportation, enabling the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in every city and town, and allowing towns to adopt minimum affordability requirements by a simple majority vote. We also need to codify the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) into state law and, through a gradual phase-in, make it available to all who qualify. This state program offers rental assistance in the form of vouchers to low-income families, but most eligible people don’t receive vouchers due to housing scarcity, landlord discrimination, organizational inefficiency, and incomplete data collection. 

These reforms will only be possible with dedicated funding streams. I support enabling local real estate transfer fees and raising the Deeds Excise Tax in addition to the $4 billion in capital spending included in the Affordable Homes Act. 

Tenant Protection

Tenant protections are a critical tool to prevent displacement, especially in communities like Somerville where two-thirds of homes are rental units. I strongly support rent stabilization, eviction record protection, guaranteed access to legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction proceedings, and the right of first refusal for tenants whose homes are being sold or foreclosed. 

Here in Somerville, average rent increased by 34-58% over the past 5 years, or up to 3 times inflation. Rent stabilization would limit rent increases to the rate of inflation with a cap at 5%, ban no fault evictions, and clarify legal reasons to evict while exempting small owner-occupied buildings and new construction. The home rule petition unanimously approved by Mayor Ballantyne and the City Council also includes protections for vulnerable seniors reliant on rental income and allows for exceptions to annual rent limits for unusual expenses.

Having a permanent eviction record exacerbates the already-difficult process of finding safe and affordable housing. People of color are disproportionately subject to eviction, which is a traumatic event with lifelong impacts on physical and mental health as well as on economic stability. Eviction record protection includes sealing no-fault eviction records immediately, sealing all eviction records after 3 years, and making it illegal for tenant screening companies or landlords to use or report sealed records. 

While the vast majority of landlords have legal representation in eviction proceedings, tenants rarely have access to counsel. Guaranteeing legal help for low-income tenants facing eviction would substantially redress the power imbalance between landlords and tenants, ensuring that tenants are informed of their rights and have an opportunity to negotiate fair agreements. 

A Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) would enable municipalities to adopt “right of first refusal” ordinances, providing tenants in multi-family buildings the right to match a third-party offer when their homes are being sold. This is a powerful tool for preventing displacement and preserving affordability at no cost to the Commonwealth.