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Following Democratic convention win, Healey promises to tackle affordability, housing

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura HealeyMichael Dwyer/Associated Press

Fresh off a Democratic convention where she trounced her opponent for the party’s endorsement in the primary for governor, Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday committed to addressing the rising cost of living in the state by first tackling housing.

Sounding gubernatorial in tone and content — increasing the number of houses and apartments in the state usually falls outside the chief law enforcement official’s purview, after all — she told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that affordability is directly tied to the business community, which has seen employees move elsewhere or leave the workforce to care for their children amidst nation-leading child-care costs.

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“There are serious questions right now,” she said in the address, which often touched on statewide issues. “How do we bring the vibrancy back to the downtown? What is the future of work really going to look like?”

Healey, who spoke Tuesday in her official capacity as attorney general at the Seaport Hotel, said the effects of the pandemic are vast, and that the cost of living is “eating away at people’s safety nets.”

Making housing more affordable, she says, is “an economic imperative.”

“Whether I’m speaking to a resident in any number of regions in the state or I’m talking to a CEO . . . the top issue that people talk about is the high cost of housing,” she said.

The South End Democrat argued that the state must increase housing stock, relax zoning barriers, expand down payment assistance programs and housing counseling, and create more housing units around public transit.

Such investments could increase the number of first-time homeowners and close the racial wealth gap in the state, she said.

Ambitious housing legislation passed last year mandates cities and towns serviced by the MBTA allow for denser housing near T stations, though its execution has drawn criticism from some of the affected communities.

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Healey stopped short of making campaign promises Tuesday — the tone was mostly of someone who had already won her campaign — but said the state needs to make sure assistance programs are reaching people in all languages, publicizing resources to those who may not have Internet access, and empower communities to enact their own rent stabilization policies.

Her campaign’s seven-point housing platform outlines similar ideas, and also advocates for the expansion of housing to combat homelessness, which she did not touch on in front of the business community Tuesday.

In a radio interview last month, Healey said that she does not support reestablishing rent control as a “solution” for the high housing costs in Massachusetts. Soon after, her campaign said she doesn’t support “requiring” rent control statewide — something no lawmaker or candidate is seriously proposing — but is open to allowing cities and towns to do so.

Massachusetts voters banned rent control in the state through a ballot measure in 1994, meaning any local efforts to do so would require approval by the Legislature and governor. There is a bill that would remove the ban, which has lain dormant in a legislative committee for months.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Healey’s gubernatorial primary opponent, has long backed allowing rent control on the local level.

Chang-Díaz also has a published campaign platform on housing, which similarly calls to increase housing production, expand rental assistance programs, and create more opportunities for first-time homeowners. The Jamaica Plain senator also supports passing legislation to fund more affordable housing and investing in transitional housing and services aimed at ending homelessness.

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During her speech, Healey touched on other areas that intersect with affordability, like child care, abortion rights, a transportation system she said “desperately needs an overhaul” and clean-energy initiatives that she said could continue to create jobs in the state. She pointed toward her campaign promise of creating a cabinet-level climate chief, the only reference she made to her gubernatorial run in the speech.

She said the state needs to pass Common Start legislation to increase affordable early education and child care for parents in the state, and partner with the congressional delegation to secure more funding for it.

“We have to look at what’s happening right now in the midst of the inflation we are dealing with, the tax relief that we have to get to families right now, the money we need to put back in people’s pockets,” she said. “But we also need to do the broader look at recognizing that COVID has catapulted us to a different place in terms of where people work, the nature of how people where, where they literally are working from . . . that goes to decisions that people are going to make around their kitchen table.”


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.