Baker plugs homeownership assistance plan as “urgent circumstance”


BOSTON (SHNS) – The $300 million in federal relief funds Gov. Charlie Baker is seeking to spend to expand down payment assistance would help as many as “tens of thousands of homeowners,” particularly in communities of color that historically have struggled to access other government programs, Baker said Thursday.

Ahead of a legislative hearing next week on his proposal to spend $2.9 billion of state government’s American Rescue Plan Act funding, Baker said his suggested homeownership supports could help prevent renters from being priced out of their communities and stave off community disruption amid skyrocketing housing prices.

“If you’re not worried about displacement right now in a lot of these communities and these neighborhoods (of color), you should be,” Baker said during an affordable housing event in Lawrence. “The power of home ownership is, guess what, you can’t be pushed out because you own, and you get the benefit associated with that interest deduction, and you have the ability to control a big part of your destiny.”

Baker’s comments came at an event where his administration announced the deployment of $139 million in direct funding and tax credits to support affordable housing projects in 21 cities and towns. The money will lead to development of 1,526 new rental units, 1,346 of which will be affordable for low- and extremely low-income households, the administration said.

Baker and his deputies have been applying public pressure on lawmakers to support the administration’s ARPA spending proposal after the Legislature rebuffed Baker’s original proposal to carve out more than half of the $5.3 billion state government received and allow him to spend it quickly.

“That’s why we put such a big number on that: we view this as an urgent circumstance, and if we can convince our colleagues in the Legislature to move on this, we’re not talking a few thousand homeowners, we’re talking tens of thousands of homeowners,” Baker said.

The Republican governor said Thursday that the home ownership assistance would help Massachusetts partially remedy generations-old racial inequities that left people of color unable to reap the same aid as white residents.

“Everybody who owns a home, for the most part, that pays any interest on that home has been the beneficiary of a home ownership interest deduction for decades,” he said. “This country created the equivalent of down payment assistance for people for decades, especially in the post-World War II world, where in many cases through zoning and other issues, people of color simply couldn’t qualify for that opportunity.” “We have simply done a bad job as a country in making those same sorts of opportunities available, in many cases, to communities and people of color,” he added. “That $300 million, especially now, is an incredibly important opportunity to right that wrong.”

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