Cardinal Law seeks end to MA affordable housing crisis FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 18 Apr 1999 16:50:48 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Boston Globe - April 14, 1999 - page E05


     Will call on key business, labor, political,
     and community leaders to team up on issue

     By Jennifer Babson, Globe Correspondent

Cardinal Bernard Law, alarmed at the state's mounting shortage of
affordable housing, today will call on business and political leaders to
confront the crisis.

While stopping short of making specific policy proposals, Law - in a speech
before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce - will use his authority as
spiritual leader of the region's 2 million Roman Catholics to call
attention to the issue.

''Strong leaders act in front of issues to save people from harm,'' Law
states in an advance copy of the speech obtained by the Globe. ''They do
not let misfortune happen and then seek remedies.''

Law's exhortation comes as political leaders are just beginning to grapple
with a housing shortage spurred by high home costs, escalating rents, and
the end of decades of rent control. Boston's housing prices are now the
third highest in the nation, by some estimates.

Earlier this week, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran proposed new state tax
credits for low-cost housing developers. In January, Boston Mayor Thomas M.
Menino pledged to create 2,000 new housing units by the end of the year.
While acknowledging these efforts, Law is expected to urge that the
business community and politicians do more.

In the address, Law says expanding the housing stock is a matter of both
social justice and economic growth.

''The issue of overcoming the vast array of obstacles and impediments
preventing the adequate production of affordable housing and rental housing
requires strategic thinking and fresh ideas,'' he says.

Law is also slated to announce that he has asked Fleet Financial Group,
which operates the state's largest bank, to convene a meeting among other
banks, nonprofit groups, and state agencies that disperse and receive
affordable housing money to devise ways to streamline the creation of
affordable housing.

In addition, Law will endorse a study being conducted by the nonpartisan
think tank MassINC that will examine ways in which public-private
partnerships can work together in this effort.

''The prediction that the market would take care of supply when we ended
rent control has not materialized, and there is a need to find another
plan,'' Law says.

Law also will ask the chamber to help coordinate a two-day retreat of key
business, labor, political, and community leaders to discuss the results of
the MassINC study, which is not expected to be completed until early next

The escalation in rental and home prices has occurred at the same time
state and federal governments have slashed funding for rental assistance

The housing crunch has touched almost every corner of the state: Evictions
and homelessness have reached record levels, while one of every four
households suffers from a ''severe housing affordability problem,''
according to a recent University of Massachusetts study.

In three Boston neighborhoods, residents on average need to earn more to
rent an apartment than to buy a house, according to a city study.

After more than a year of drum beating on the part of housing advocates,
politicians have lately begun to address the issue, though few have
suggested any comprehensive solutions.

''It's become more of a pocketbook issue so legislators are starting to
hear from constituents more frequently about the cost of housing and about
displacement,'' said Aaron Gornstein, executive director of the Citizens'
Housing and Planning Association Inc.

A MassINC report issued in December, underwritten by the Teresa and H. John
Heinz III Foundation, found that spiraling housing costs are helping to
drive young workers from Massachusetts. According to the report, 220,000
more people left the state than moved here from other states between 1990
and 1997.

That worries business leaders, who say they are having difficulty
attracting highly skilled workers to the region.

''We are seeing that housing prices really do have an impact in terms of
folks accepting jobs,'' said Paul Guzzi, president and chief executive of
the chamber.

In Boston, Menino has begun holding weekly meetings of all his housing
advisers - from the director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority to the
head of the inspectional services department - to review progress on
housing matters.

''We're at stage one where everybody is now recognizing the problem,''
Gornstein said. ''The challenge is really how do we build on this renewed
interest and develop some concrete solutions that will help solve the
housing crisis.''


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