SPRINGFIELD — Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities Ed Augustus said that his secretariat is evidence of Gov. Maura Healey’s commitment to addressing the housing crisis in the commonwealth.

Augustus explained in a recent episode of “Government Matters” on Focus Springfield that Massachusetts has not had a secretary dedicated to housing alone for decades.

He said the housing crisis is a “threat to our competitiveness as a state, to the viability of our communities, to our property tax base so we need to make sure our people, every level of the income spectrum, can live in the communities we are looking for them to be working in.”

Although there is a housing crisis across the nation, Augustus said Massachusetts “is a little bit more acute.”

Augustus added, “Honestly, we have not been building enough housing in the last 20 or 30 years.” Part of that condition has been communities that have been erecting zoning barriers to affordable housing, which he believes requires adjustment.

The former city manager of Worcester said he is very aware of the challenges facing municipalities around adequate housing inventory. He said that as city manager he oversaw the creation of new housing to take advantage of the commuter rail links that were established.

The housing attracted a 14% increase in population between 2010 and 2020, he added.

The discussion also included Way Finders President and CEO Keith Fairey, Western Mass. Economic Development Council President and CEO Rick Sullivan, Associated Industries of Massachusetts President and CEO Brooke Thompson.

Augustus noted that in the $1 billion tax relief bill signed by Healey in 2023, there were provisions for housing. One was a tax credit to encourage the construction of new market rate housing in Gateway Cities, which locally include Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee and Westfield.

He said in the past it had been $10 million a year now increased to $30 million with a one-time allocation of $57 million

“With this more robust funding we are going to say, ‘Yes,’ to more market rate projects in places like Springfield, a Gateway City,” Augustus said. State aid for affordable housing went from $40 million a year to $60 million annually, he added.

Last October, Augustus said, Healey signed the Affordable Homes Act into law.

According to a press release from his office, “In Massachusetts, an infusion of new homes is needed to lower costs, accommodate population growth and achieve a healthy vacancy rate. In combination with the housing development tax credits that were part of the tax relief package, the initiatives in this plan will fund or enable the creation of more than 40,000 homes that otherwise would not be built, including 22,000 new homes for low-income households and 12,000 new homes for middle-income households. In addition, the Affordable Homes Act will preserve, rehabilitate or make resilience improvements to 12,000 homes for low-income households, support more than 11,000 moderate-income households, and fund accessibility improvements for 4,500 homes.”

In addition, he explained there is funding to help with the conversion of commercial properties into housing. Like old mills and factories that have been converted into housing, Augustus said there are opportunities for former office buildings and malls to be converted.

He believes this combination of strategies will “unlock housing production in Massachusetts and really make we are creating all kinds of housing — market-rate housing, ownership opportunities, affordable rental, deeply discounted rental and our public housing stock which is really our safety net system in Massachusetts.”

Fairey said the housing stock in the Pioneer Valley is quite old — much of it built before 1970 and a significant amount before 1950 — and reinvesting in that stock is essential.

“If we don’t reinvest, the issue that will happen there is we will begin to lose some of that housing stock into functional obsolescence,” he said. Repairing and renovating older housing should be done alongside building new housing, he added.

The new median cost of a home in Massachusetts at nearly $500,000 in February is resulting in people — especially young adults — leaving the state seeking employment opportunities elsewhere, Augustus said.

On the business side, Thompson said, “It’s having a real impact.” She explained the organization polls its members and for the last four years the biggest challenge has been hiring. With a very low unemployment rate, she said between 15 and 20% of employers say they have open positions. Lack of affordable housing is a reason for this condition.

Competition for employees between states has only increased in a post-COVID-19 world, she added.

“We have to take some aggressive steps now if we’re going to right-size where we are going in the future,” Thompson said.

Sullivan said the members of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council have “literally thousands of positions open in every single sector.” He said the Healey plan for housing is part of a “growth strategy and no part of the commonwealth needs a growth strategy more than Western Massachusetts because we just need to attract those workers to come here but we need places for them to live and be able to afford to live.”

He said that not only do developers need to be involved in planning new housing or renovated housing but also municipal leaders must “forward this growth strategy, this growth opportunity.”

Sullivan said older residents are not able to do what they once did.

Traditionally, they would sell their larger homes and move into other housing, which increased the housing inventory for younger people. The problem is there is little housing available for older people so they stay in their original homes longer.

To make these funded plans to work, Sullivan said, “It’s really incumbent on everybody, not just the political leaders and developers to step up and take advantage of this moment in time.”

To watch the entire program, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJ2n20_u_GQ.

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