Massachusetts House Votes Down Proposals to Help Renters, Promote Affordable Housing

When Governor Charlie Baker sent an economic development bill to the MA Legislature, he included his "Housing Choices" legislation, which had been stalled as a standalone bill. The "Housing Choices" bill addresses one aspect of Massachusetts's affordable housing crisis: the fact that new construction is relatively rare in the suburbs due to the prevalence of single-family zoning. If you can only build one housing unit per lot, it makes it more difficult to respond to a growing population or growing demand. Currently, zoning changes (such as those that would approve multifamily housing construction) require a 2/3 approval from local government. Baker's bill, which the MA House retained in their economic development package, would lower that to a simple majority.

The need for more supply, though, is just one part of the problem. There is no guarantee that the new supply would be affordable, nor that the new supply would not push up rents for current tenants, thus running the risk of displacement. There isn't even a guarantee that any new housing will be built at all (it's a removal of a barrier rather than promise of new construction).

That being said, as an MIT researcher recently noted in CommonWealth Mag, all this means is that we need to think comprehensively when we approach the affordable housing crisis: we do need zoning reform, but we also need stronger protections for existing tenants. Tenant protections will not address the need for supply: only new construction can. Zoning reform will not address displacement: you need tenant protections for that. This was also an essential takeaway of the book Golden Gates by Conor Dougherty on the housing crisis in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the MA House voted down efforts at striking such a balance.

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Housing Stability Is an Essential Part of the Cure for COVID

The following testimony was submitted to the Joint Committee on Housing.

Thank you chairs and members of the committee for reading our testimony.

As municipal leaders scramble desperately to find solutions to the onslaught of evictions they know are headed their way, the people must turn to the state legislature to quell the oncoming tsunami of homelessness that will destroy families and traumatize children if the state legislature does not act.

We urge you to pass S2831/H.4878 in order to end the threat of evictions posed by the sudden end of the current eviction moratorium in October. If families are required to pay back rent for almost half a year, there is no way those living paycheck to paycheck will be able to stay in their homes. If we don't provide a solution to this problem, we will have a catastrophe unlike any we have confronted before, as families are turned out of their homes en masse.

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Here's How Your State Rep Voted on Police Reform

Late Friday evening, the MA House passed its police reform bill, following the Senate's passage of the Reform - Shift - Build Act the prior week. Like the Senate bill, it creates a certification/decertification body for police officers, something almost every other state already has, and strengthens regulations around the use of force.

While the bill went slightly further than the Senate bill on the use of force and had stronger regulations on the use of facial surveillance, it barely touched the issue of qualified immunity (the legal doctrine that shields abusive police officers from lawsuits and denies victims their fair day in court), dropped language limiting and regulating the acquisition of military equipment, and failed to include the Senate's stronger language on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline or on a Justice Reinvestment Fund (which would invest sums equivalent to DOC savings into opportunities for impacted communities). And neither bill goes as far as necessary to truly limit the scope of policing, i.e., shifting functions away from police departments and to trained social workers and other non-armed professionals (We don't need armed police to show up when someone has a mental health episode).

The final vote on the bill was 93 to 66 (see roll call below). The House and Senate will now have to work to come up with consensus language.


Over the course of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the House considered 221 amendments and had far more floor debate than is usual for the top-down chamber. Indeed, many votes were far closer than the lop-sided votes that are so common.


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The House Can Strengthen Its Police Reform Bill

Yesterday, the MA House released its police reform bill, and needless to say, we’re disappointed. Although there are some improvements on the Senate bill (stronger language on facial surveillance and chokeholds), the House punted on reforming qualified immunity, weakened language on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline, eliminated the Justice Reinvestment Fund, and dropped a whole section devoted to controlling the transfer of military equipment to police forces.

The House will be voting THIS WEEK, so your state rep needs to be hearing from YOU that you want a stronger bill. We’ve outlined some key amendments below. (Click here to contact your reps.)

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Go Big or Don't Go Home

In a mere eleven days -- on Friday, July 31st, at 11:59 pm -- the legislative session in the Massachusetts State House comes to an end.

The bills that didn't make it past the finish line this year will disappear into the ether or return like a phoenix from the ashes in January next year, only to face the same grueling process.

But there are many policies that can't wait until January. Indeed, passing them now is already far later than should have been done. And, frankly, the Legislature shouldn't get to leave session until they finish.

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The Reform - Shift - Build Act: What's in It, What's Not, and How They Voted?

At 4:12 am on Tuesday, July 14, after having been in session since 11:00 am the day prior, the Massachusetts State Senate voted 30 to 7 (with 3 voting present) to pass S.2800: An Act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color (Reform - Shift - Build Act). 

Voting NO were five Democrats -- Nick Collins, Anne Gobi, Michael Moore, Mike Rush, and John Velis -- and two Republicans -- Ryan Fattman and Dean Tran. Voting present were Democrat Diana DiZoglio and Republicans Patrick O’Connor and Bruce Tarr. Notably, two of the YES votes spoke on the floor that they hoped that the House would weaken the bill: Democrats Mike Brady and Marc Pacheco. 

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Take Action: The Senate Votes Tomorrow on Policing Reform

Tomorrow, the MA Senate will be voting on a bill to reform how policing is done in Massachusetts.

Although it contains many important provisions, it also leaves far too much on the table, and it contains language that undercuts the ability of the reforms to provide meaningful change.


Here's how you can help.

Tell your senator to support Amendments #10, 21, 27, 31, 37, 64, 65, 67, 75, 81, 108, 113, and 119. These amendments will reinvest in communities, limit the scope and presence of police, ban dangerous police tactics, and protect the rights of the incarcerated.

Find their number here and give them a call.

Tweet at them to support the amendments.

Send them an email in support of these amendments.


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Take Action: Extend Sick Time. Extend the Eviction Moratorium. Extend the Session.

TL;DR: Tell your legislators to extend paid sick time, extend the eviction moratorium, and extend the legislative session.

Today marks Phase 3 of Republican Governor Charlie Baker's reopening plan. That means that movie theaters (??), casinos (??), and gyms (??!?) are allowed to reopen today -- even as states around the country are seeing resurgences of the COVID-19 outbreak.

And to make matters worse, this reopening is happening without any new, enforceable protections for workers.

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Four Weeks Left....

Unless anything changes, four weeks from today -- Friday, July 31st -- the formal part of the 191st Legislative Session of the Massachusetts General Court will come to an end.

That means that there are four weeks for the MA Legislature to up its game on pretty much every single front.

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Two Months Until Primary Day

The Massachusetts state primary is two months from today: Tuesday, September 1st.

The basics for getting prepared for the next couple months:

But beyond just being registered, we want you to be informed. Read questionnaires from candidates running for State Legislature across the state here.

There are a lot of questionnaires, and we will break up our endorsements into multiple batches as in years past.

Our Elections Committee reviewed questionnaires, spoke with allies, and made recommendations for a first batch, and then our members voted.

And we're proud to endorse the following candidates, who will be progressive champions in the MA House.


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