[A clarification: We sometimes promote things to the front page on BMG that we don’t particularly agree with. This is one such post, most of which I disagree with, but which raises important concerns. I have corrected a contention that the MA Smart Growth Alliance is somehow connected with some larger developer-linked group; I can’t find evidence of that.]
Our Guv is again pushing the legislature to pass his so-called “Housing Choices” bill, in the barely-watched, lame-duck informal sessions. In January, 2018, Baker moaned that “for too many people housing in the Commonwealth is unaffordable.” Yet the bill he’s promoting has ZERO provision for affordability.
It’s a pure supply-side scam, designed to line the pockets of land speculators, property developers, and realtors, which will primarily result in more luxury condos for the super-rich to invest in. Its true nature can be seen by its biggest cheering section: the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts (HBRA), the Massachusetts Association of Realtors (MAR), the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB.)
These civic-minded public benefactors are joined by the Mass Smart Growth Alliance,
the local branch of a national outfit born out of the development community. [This is apparently not so — edited by Charley] Another seemingly odd bedfellow is the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA). This organization lobbies Beacon Hill on behalf of the executive branch of local government – mayors, mainly.
Baker’s bill would be a huge gift to mayors, enabling an enormous executive power grab in the sleepy precincts of local government. Right now, it takes a two-thirds vote of a city council to change local zoning. Baker’s latest gift to mayors would change that requirement to a simple majority, allowing them to assure that anything they want built gets built, and damn the opposition.
This bill would reduce the role of democratically-elected local legislative bodies, eliminating much of the limited checks and balances they provide. Prop 2 and a half gives mayors a financial incentive to green light anything a developer wants to build. There is ample political cover for everyone if the magic words, “more housing,” are invoked.
Baker has cultivated mayors, handing out big discretionary grants for all sorts of local projects. That’s why Baker had 20 Democratic mayors endorse him – and plenty of others sit on their hands during the recent gubernatorial election. Plus, Baker has kept alive the promise of the “Housing Choices” goodie bag, designed to eviscerate the role of city councils in planning the shape of future development in their communities.
Granted, there are cities which should be stepping up to allow more residential development, especially that which is affordable to its residents. But, as Robbie Nelson recently wrote in Jacobin, “[W]e also need to steer clear of a noxious “yes in my backyard” (YIMBY)-ism which insists that capitalist developers would love to provide us with abundant, secure, and affordable housing if only we allowed them to build more. Many zoning regulations are stupid and not broadly conducive to healthy and sustainable urban space, but we shouldn’t buy the argument that places technical zoning legislation at the root of our housing crises.”
This is the just the argument that our ruling class has been repeating like a mantra. Since the very word “zoning” puts most people to sleep, many otherwise responsible citizens will just nod and say, “yes, yes, Governor Baker – a benign technocrat like you must know the solution to our housing crisis.” Is there any hope that people will wake up, and apply their critical thinking skills to this bill, before we’re subject to yet another corporate coup?