Senate Committee Budget Provides Modest Increases for Housing
The state budget released yesterday by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means proposed $104.9 million for DHCD's housing line items, approximately the same amount as the House, and $13 million more than the FY 06 budget.
On the positive side, the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program was level funded at the $5 million CHAPA had requested, and the Soft Second home mortgage program received $5 million (a 100% increase over this year).
However, the funding levels for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) and for the public housing operating subsidy account are disappointing. Despite strong support and advocacy, increased homelessness, and a recent Boston Globe editorial supporting rental assistance, the committee provided only a $1 million increase for MRVP. This amount would not allow new vouchers to be issued, and it does not reach the level necessary to preserve existing project-based units. For public housing, the committee provides $43 million, $2 million less than the House for FY 07. Additionally, the budget does not include the funds owed to LHAs for previous fiscal years or an increase to the non-utility expense levels. The Ways and Means committee also came in $500,000 shy of the $3.5 million passed by the House for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program for people with disabilities.
CHAPA will be working on numerous amendments to help increase funding for key programs. Budget amendments are due on Friday, May 19th, and the Senate is expected to begin its budget debate on Wednesday, May 24th.
Senate Passes Surplus Land Disposition Bill
On Thursday, May 4, the Senate passed a state surplus land disposition bill. For many years, the process of disposing of state surplus land has been time consuming and included many roadblocks. Three years ago, the Legislature passed Section 548 of Chapter 26 to expedite the disposition process. Section 548 worked, but it resulted in a backlash from municipalities who felt that they lacked an opportunity for input and ended in June 2005. CHAPA spent the last year working with a coalition of organizations to reach consensus on a new process.
With the Senate's action on May 4, both branches have now passed legislation to create a new disposition process (the House version passed last fall). The differences between the two bills must now be resolved before a final bill can reach the governor's desk.
CHAPA believes that the Senate bill strikes a fair balance among the competing concerns. The bill provides a predictable roadmap and gives clear guidance regarding the opportunity for input and influence. At the same time, it lets potential purchasers know that within a set period of time, a decision will be made, and it is less cumbersome administratively than the version that passed the House.
Some the bill's key elements include:
- The Division of Capital Asset Management, working with a surplus land coordination committee will be responsible for the acquisition, control, and dispositiion of the property.
- For lots greater than 2 acres or valued at $1 million or more, the regional planning agency will conduct a smart growth review to determine the appropriate reuse.
- Public hearings will be held when required by the statute or requested by the host municipality.
- The host municipality will have an opportunity to purchase the land at a discount, and that right may be assigned to certain non-for-profit organizations.
- The host municipality may receive 10% - 25% of the net cash proceeds, and the remaining proceeds will be placed in the Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund for grants to regional planning agencies for technical assistance and for financial incentives under Chapter 40R.
To see the text of the senate bill, as passed, click here.