CHAPA CEO, Rachel Heller, Testifies for Joint Committee on Housing Informational Hearing

Testimony is available in PDF form. You can also watch the full hearing video.


June 3, 2021
Testimony of CHAPA Chief Executive Officer, Rachel Heller
Joint Committee on Housing Virtual Informational Hearing

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Rachel Heller, and I am the CEO of CHAPA, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association.

CHAPA is a statewide affordable housing organization that encourages the production and preservation of homes that are affordable to households with low and moderate incomes and to foster diverse and sustainable neighborhoods through planning and community development.

For more than 50 years, we have:

  • Advocated for opportunity. We do this at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Expanded access to housing through our coordination of the Massachusetts Homeownership Collaborative, monitor thousands of affordable homes across the state, administer MassAccess, and
  • Developed the affordable housing field through trainings, forums, our Young Professionals Network and a mentorship program that we run with the Mel King Institute.

CHAPA brings together a broad group of stakeholders that represents nonprofit and for-profit developers, housing authorities, tenants, legal services, real estate attorneys, municipal officials, planners, homelessness advocacy groups, disability advocates, service providers, and community organizations.

We believe that together, we can build a better future for everyone in the Commonwealth.

This is something we’ve always done in Massachusetts – shaping the future we want for ourselves. This proactive spirit has made us leaders in education, healthcare, climate change, and the arts. And, Massachusetts has a long-standing commitment to affordable housing. We are one of a handful of states with our own state public housing stock, our own state low-income housing tax credit program, our own state rental assistance programs, our affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, our smart growth zoning program – Chapter 40R, our affordable housing preservation law – Chapter 40T, and our affordable housing production and preservation programs funded through the Housing Bond Bill. We have demonstrated that Massachusetts is innovative and that we are committed to solving problems. And, yet one big problem we face will require more funding and more solutions.

The affordable housing challenges facing our state put us at risk of losing the very things that make Massachusetts so great.

The urgency of the COVID pandemic and racial injustices demands that we rethink who we are and what we want to be as a Commonwealth.

The pandemic has been hard for everyone and has disproportionately impacted people with low incomes, people experiencing homelessness, and people of color. The Legislature, Governor, local governments, and the federal government have provided important financial resources to help people pay the rent and issued eviction moratoriums. DHCD and the regional administering agencies have continued to change programs to make them easier for people to access. Community organizations have played a vital role in helping people to apply for financial resources. This has made a huge impact on people’s lives and put a spotlight on the need for permanent affordable housing and the need to advance racial equity.

The decisions we make now determine our future and can ensure that every person can find an affordable home in the community of their choice.

We all know that housing is expensive in Massachusetts and that incomes have not kept pace with the cost of rents or home prices, leaving people across income levels struggling. People with the lowest incomes struggle the most and have the fewest options. This results in people being severely rent-burdened, people experiencing homelessness, and people potentially spending more on transportation to get to work, school, and appointments, and having to make choices between food, rent, and medicine.

All of this was exacerbated during the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic exposed a lot about our housing crisis. There is now a spotlight on housing instability, the disproportionate health and eviction impacts on Black and Brown households, and the divide between people with resources and jobs that allow them to work from home and people who do not have the choice to stay home.

Massachusetts faces a severe affordable housing shortage, and four main strategies are needed to ensure that people live in safe, healthy, and affordable homes in the communities they choose. We call these the four P’s: production, preservation, planning, and prosperity.

  • We must produce more housing opportunities in every community and particularly, for people with extremely low incomes.
  • We must preserve our existing affordable housing, including our state’s public housing. We must also prevent displacement by preserving the ability of households to stay in their communities.
  • We must plan together as a Commonwealth for every community to create and preserve affordable housing. We must also plan for how we can protect and achieve fair housing for all.
  • Finally, we must ensure prosperity of our neighbors and communities through access and opportunity. Everyone should have the opportunity to live in safe, healthy, and affordable homes in the communities they choose, free of discrimination and with opportunities for economic mobility and to achieve their dreams.

Diving deeper into these strategies, with regards to housing production, our needs are well documented.  The Governor has set a goal of adding 135,000 new homes by 2025 and the Metro Mayors Coalition has set a goal of 185,000 new homes by 2030. MAPC states that we need 435,000 homes by 2040 with nearly two-thirds being multifamily. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released a report that found Massachusetts has a shortage of over 140,000 affordable homes for households with extremely low incomes.

Meeting these goals is important for stabilizing our housing market, growing our economy, preventing displacement, ending homelessness, and reducing the need for people to live farther from their jobs and networks.

While we aim to reach these goals set by the Governor and Metro Mayors, we also need to set intentional goals for affordable housing and housing for people with extremely low incomes.

Building affordable housing is like putting together a puzzle. We need zoning in place, financing to build it, and operating assistance to make it deeply affordable. In the case of supportive housing, we also need to fund services in addition to general operating costs.

In 2018, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed a $1.8 billion housing bond bill. In the recent economic development bill, the Legislature doubled funding for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. In both the House and Senate budget proposals, there are increases for rental assistance programs, MRVP and AHVP. Thank you for these critical investments and for your continued support for the growth of these programs.

Funding from the bond bill and rental assistance in the budget will support the development of homes that are affordable to people with extremely low, low, and moderate incomes.

In addition to producing more homes, we need to preserve affordable housing as well as preserve people’s ability to live in the neighborhoods that they have called home and preventing displacement. This requires funding from the housing bond bill, funding public housing and rental assistance, providing legal counsel for tenants at risk of evictions, and potential policies and funding to acquire housing in communities at risk of displacement.

Expanding our affordable housing supply requires planning. We need to plan for more housing, more housing in locations around transit, town centers, and areas of infrastructure, supporting people’s ability to move without relying on cars. We need to plan for equitable development, ensuring we invest in people and communities who have been excluded from individual and community wealth building. For all of the critical funding provided by the state and local governments, funding can only build what is allowed to be built in communities across the Commonwealth.

The Legislature made tremendous progress on this at the end of last session with the passage of the economic development bill that includes Housing Choice and multifamily zoning requirement for MBTA communities. This will make it easier to build the kind of housing we need the most and the kind of housing that has been the hardest to build because of local opposition to housing development.

And, more needs to be done. We need more housing opportunities in every community that is near town centers and other infrastructure. This means requiring all communities to zone for multifamily housing and allow accessory dwelling units by right. It means allowing inclusionary zoning through a simple majority. We need to examine how greyfields, or underutilized properties, can be used for housing. We should look at state-owned land and prioritize affordable housing development where appropriate.

And, we need to produce, preserve, and plan for more housing so that all people have the opportunity to prosper. Prosperity means that people have the opportunity to live in safe, healthy, affordable housing in any community they choose, free of discrimination, and with access to economic mobility.

As part of this work, we must acknowledge our history of discriminatory housing and land use policies that has resulted in the fifth largest racial homeownership gap in the country. Closing the racial homeownership gap and ensuring that affordable housing programs enable Black and Brown households to build wealth, is vital to righting the wrongs of the past.

Policies like redlining, exclusionary zoning, and other discriminatory housing policies are reinforced every day in our communities and they have long-term impacts. The effects of redlining and present-day discriminatory lending have us at an unbelievable, unacceptable situation where the median net worth of white households in Greater Boston is $247,500 and the net worth of Black households in Greater Boston is $8, as you have likely seen in the Globe spotlight series. This, in addition to discriminatory lending practices, impacts people’s ability to become homeowners, impacting their economic mobility.

These are big challenges and they are achievable. We can meet our housing goals so that every person has the ability to live in safe, healthy, and affordable homes in the communities they choose. We can build upon the programs we have created, use the federal recovery dollars to advance affordable housing production, and support housing development in our communities. The Legislature has led on so many of these policies and programs. This session is another opportunity to make progress and expand access and opportunity across the state.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. Please reach out to CHAPA as a resource. If we don’t have the answer, we likely know who you can talk to in order to learn more about your questions, concerns, and ideas for policy proposals.

Thank you.