A $14 billion spending plan unveiled by Governor Maura Healey Thursday reveals modest investments over the next five years to further the administration’s goals on climate, economic development, and, perhaps most crucially, housing.
While the Capital Investment Plan includes the creation of a brand-new housing program and money to rehab the state’s deteriorating public housing stock, those in the housing world are skeptical it will go far enough to lift the state out of its spiraling housing crisis.
“Seeing an increase is a good thing, any increase is a good thing,” Rachel Heller, CEO of the housing advocacy group Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, said. “But we know how much is needed.”
Healey, Administration and Finance Secretary Matthew Gorzkowicz, and Housing Secretary Edward M. Augustus Jr. visited Hyannis late Thursday morning to highlight the new program, which also includes updates to public buildings, investments in climate projects, and funding to rehab or replace roads and bridges, including the Bourne and Sagamore bridges to Cape Cod.
The $14 billion plan, which will be paid for by a combination of state, federal, and other funds, carries a slightly higher price tag than former governor Charlie Baker’s five-year plan, which totaled roughly $13.9 billion. Governors update and release the state’s capital spending plan each year. Unlike a capital budget, the plan is not voted on by the Legislature.
“This is a big deal,” Healey said during the Cape Cod news conference, standing in front of a collage of crayon drawings depicting the homes of local children.
“We are taking things to a new level, which is only right because our needs have never been greater,” she said.
A new $97 million HousingWorks program was created to boost the affordable housing stock by offering subsidies, paying cities and towns incentives that meet the state’s zoning “best practices,” and funding other local projects.
The program will spur the production of 200 to 300 new units of affordable housing each year, according to the governor’s office.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Massachusetts has a deficit of more than 175,000 affordable and available units for low-income renters.
Take the number of new units Healey’s program will create each year “and you divide 175,000 by it, you get 700 years as the sort of trajectory of this one program,” state Representative Mike Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat and housing advocate said. “I am all for adding 300 units a year, but we are missing the broader picture here.”
The program was created to emulate the popular MassWorks program, which combined several grant programs to help municipal governments and other public agencies spur housing construction and job growth.
The new HousingWorks initiative builds on several existing state programs, including the Smart Growth 40R program, that incentivize municipal housing production, particularly low- to moderate-income housing, and development near transit stations. It also combines existing state programs that incentivize housing on the local level, creating a bigger pool of available funding for municipalities to tap.
The capital spending plan, which commits a total of $1.5 billion over five years to housing programs, also included $120 million a year to rehab the state’s 43,000 units of public housing — a bump from years past, but still well short of the mark advocates in recent months have been pushing the Healey administration to reach.
Massachusetts’s state-funded public housing is in dire condition because of decades of disinvestment, and the funding allocated in the capital plan is divided amongst the state’s 251 housing authorities to repair failing infrastructure such as roofs and sewer systems, and for redevelopment projects.
Advocates have put the cost of repairing the entire portfolio at roughly $9 billion.
“We have got to make those units livable, habitable, ASAP,” Healey said Thursday.
The Capital Investment Plan also includes funding aimed at the state’s climate and various infrastructure goals, including:
- $1.4 billion for transportation projects to electrify more buses and trains and build resilient infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of climate change.
- $1.6 billion to fund more than 40 state building decarbonization projects to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels.
- $307 million to replace the old Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain with a newly renovated facility on the site of the former Boston Medical Center Hospital in the South End.
- $262 million toward replacing the two aging Sagamore and Bourne bridges that traverse the Cape Cod Canal, which will eventually contribute to a $700 million long-term commitment.
- $163 million in funding for cities and towns, including grants for local economic development projects.
- $134 million to renovate and expand local libraries.
- $120 million to convert fossil fuel plants and move from the use of fossil fuels in state buildings.
- $80 million for the life sciences field, including money for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and MassVentures, the state’s venture capital arm.
- Millions in both state and federal funds to build new veterans’ homes in Chelsea and Holyoke.