Housing Wins as Legislature Concludes Formal Sessions
The Massachusetts House and Senate concluded formal legislative sessions on Monday, July 31, and during the predictably hectic last few weeks, there were various housing victories.
A new victory is the passage of an FY 06 deficiency budget (H. 5210) which appropriated $10.7 million to the public housing operating subsidy account. Language in Section 6 of the bill earmarked $7.7 million for funds already owed to local housing authorities and $3 million to increase the non-utility expense allowance (retroactive to July 1, 2005) that has been frozen for years. Governor Romney returned the language, but the House and Senate rejected the Governor's proposal and passed the language again.
Another win came with the Equal Choice bill (H.5203), a high priority of the Mass. Home Care Association was enacted and laid before the Governor. It is awaiting his action. According to a press released, the bill "modernizes the MassHealth program from one which has historically been institutionally oriented, to one which focuses on care 'in the least restrictive setting appropriate' to an individual's needs."
CHAPA will continue to work on items that have yet to pass, including the Affordable Housing Data Collection bill (H.4978) and the expedited disposition of state surplus land. The Legislature will meet informally until the beginning of January. Only non-controversial items are usually considered during informal sessions because the objection of one member prevents a bill from being taken up.
Expedited Permitting Bill Sent to Governor
The Expedited Permitting Bill (H.5207) was enacted by the House and Senate last week and is awaiting action by the Governor. You can download a copy of the conference committee's report here . The majority of the bill relates to expedited permitting (Ch. 43D) and priority development of commercially or industrially zoned sites located near existing development with infrastructure, and near transit.
Parts of the bill will be of particular interest to those in the affordable housing field. Section 9 allows special permits to take effect even if they are appealed. The appellant may seek an injunction, but one will not be issued automatically. Unless an injunction is issued, developers will be able to proceed at their own risk. Section 13 allows the holder of a restriction (conservation, preservation, affordable housing, etc.) the opportunity to collect reasonable attorneys fees and costs incurred to enforce a restriction. Section 16 creates a new permit session of the Land Court and specifies defined timeframes for deciding cases.
Attempts to amend the conference committee's report to include "environmental justice" provisions were not successful.
Single Point of Entry and Electronic Application in Process for State Public Housing
As reported in the most recent MassNAHRO newsletter, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has started work on a new application system for state-aided public housing. The system is known as SAPHIRE (Single Application for Public Housing Intake and Referral Elements). At the request of CHAPA and Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, DHCD staff provided information on their progress to a small group on July 31.
For many years, CHAPA and others have advocated for a single application and single point of entry for residents attempting to access federal and state public housing and other affordable housing resources. We are pleased to know that DHCD, at least for state-aided public housing, is moving forward with this process.
According to DHCD, the program will initially only be available to registered users (Department of Transitional Assistance) through the "Virtual Gateway." It will give applicants the ability to complete one application and submit it electronically to any number of local housing authorities. It will also create a repository of all applications, allowing for a single state-wide waiting list though housing authorities will continue to maintain their own lists.
CHAPA supports DHCD in this effort because we believe that SAPHIRE holds much promise and that it has the potential to simplify and streamline the state-aided public housing application process for consumers and administrators.
Public Housing Report Released
The public housing subcommittee, appointed almost one year ago by the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Housing, released its long-awaited report on July 26. After touring 11 local housing authorities and reviewing background material, including reports commissioned by CHAPA and others, the subcommittee made the following findings:
- "State public housing creates a unique sense of community and is a precious state resource that must be preserved."
- "Capital improvement and modernization funds for state public housing have been inadequate. . ."
- Operating budgets and state operating subsidies have been inadequate and represent only 72 percent of comparable federal public housing funding. In particular, annual operating budgets for state public housing in 2002 were $80 million less than needed, and there is no reason to believe that the situation has changed."
- The state's public housing property management system doesn't utilize possible administrative efficiencies of private sector management nor recent changes to federal public housing management."
The subcommittee said it "intends to release full and detailed recommendations for action in the 2007-2008 legislative session." In the meantime, the subcommittee made only one recommendation: "In order to reverse historically inadequate levels of funding, the General Court should immediately empower an existing state bonding authority or create a new autonomous authority to modernize and provide operating funds for state-aided public housing."
The full report is available on CHAPA's web site. To see it, click here.
CHAPA Plans Fall Regional Meetings
CHAPA has scheduled eight regional meetings that will take place this fall. This is a great opportunity for our members and others interested in affordable housing and planning to meet with CHAPA's executive director, assistant director, and each other to review 2006 accomplishments and to provide input regarding CHAPA's 2007 legislative and budget priorities. The meetings will be held: October 4 in Salem and Lowell; October 11 in Pittsfield and Springfield; October 16 in Boston; October 18 in Plympton and Hyannis; and October 26 in Gardner. More details, including RSVP forms, will be sent out soon.