Healey highlights new affordable housing bond bill in Attleboro visit

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Gov. Maura Healey tours Attleboro with Mayor Catherine Desimone (left) and state Rep Adam Scanlon, D-North Attleborough. Staff Photo/Adam Bass
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Gov. Maura Healey spent Tuesday in Attleboro as part of a series of visits to promote her Affordable Housing Act

Unveiled on Oct. 18, the AHA is a bond bill that would, if approved by the legislature, invest $4.12 billion toward producing tens of thousands of housing units in Massachusetts. Standing outside of the Union Mills 37 housing complex, Healey said that housing is the greatest challenge facing residents and must be urgently addressed.

“I want you living in Massachusetts,” Healey said. “Housing construction will begin in the spring or not, so we have to get this done.

Healey was joined by Housing Secretary Ed Agustus and met with state Reps. Adam Scanlon (D-North Attleborough), Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro), Carol Doherty (D-Taunton), and Attleboro Mayor Cathleen Desimone. The group went on a tour to look at housing developments such as Union Mills 37, once used as a jewelry mill during the Industrial Revolution. It has been converted into an apartment community with 59 new homes. Healey praised the renovation and said that more like them could be built if the Affordable Housing Act is passed.

“We want to create more affordable homes in livable communities in the state,” Healey said. “There is a lot in this, but there needs to be a lot. It’s important. It’s what all of us hear about. It’s urgently needed.”

The act contains 28 proposals designed to help increase housing production throughout the state. These include allowing towns and cities the ability to enact taxes up to 2% on real estate transfer fees to fund affordable housing projects, changing the voting threshold for community government bodies to approve inclusionary zoning from two-thirds to a simple majority, and giving single-family homeowners the right to build accessory dwelling units of less than 900 square feet on their lots without the need for a special permit. The bill also contains a $1.6 billion investment for public housing and $275 million to create more housing stock, such as converting office space or abandoned malls into units.

According to Augustus, the proposal would not interfere with local governments enacting housing laws. Augustus said the bill aims to give towns and cities more options to build housing and encourage construction.

“We’re not treading untread grounds here,” Augustus said. “When you’re motivated to stop something there are a lot of ways to do that. Now is the time to not be stopping housing, now is the time to be promoting housing.”

House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) and Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) have not commented on the bill, but other lawmakers have supported Healey’s proposal. State Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Foxboro) praised the Affordable Housing Act, calling for legislation to help families unable to afford housing at current market prices.

“When it comes to housing in the Commonwealth, we need everything, everywhere, and all at once,” Feeney said. “These reforms will support middle-class residents, bolster economic development in all corners of the Commonwealth, and keep Massachusetts competitive and welcoming to current and prospective residents.”

Scanlon said the bill would offer new construction opportunities for North Attleborough and that the addition of the ADU’s by-right provision would help families with senior citizens. Scanlon said constructing new housing is a priority for North Attleborough and is ready to find any opportunity to build more.

“We need to get behind this issue,” Scanlon said. “North Attleborough is ready to build housing. I believe we will get there.”