Ten Unsolicited Suggestions for our New Governor

Since Election Day, many people have asked what I think about the new Governor and what his election will mean for the Community Development Field.  My quick answer, in light of the commitments he made to us at the MACDC Convention last month (Watch VIDEO), is that I’m optimistic.  And the appointment of Jay Ash as Secretary of Housing and Economic Development is another great signal that this Administration will be a friend of community development.  My longer answer is that it is incumbent on those of us in the field to work hard to build a productive partnership with the new Administration. In that spirit, I thought I would offer a few suggestions to Governor-elect Charlie Baker:

  1. Set ambitious housing goals:  The Administration should set ambitious goals that can be used to shape policy, motivate public agencies, attract private partners, overcome bureaucratic inertia, and be used to measure progress, make adjustment and ultimately refine policies as needed.  To ensure balance, the Administration should set goals in several areas, such as: new first-time homebuyers accessing state support mortgage products, new permits for multi-family housing, affordable housing production and preservation, reductions in family and individual homelessness, a reduction in the number of households paying over 50% (or 30%) of their income for housing, and the number of towns/cities that exceed the 10% goal for affordable housing.
  2. Invest strategically to address housing market deficiencies:  I was pleased that Mr. Baker said at our Convention that he would at least maintain the current $190 million capital budget for housing and consider increases in the future. Increases in the capital budget, along with increases in state tax credits, brownfields funding and rental assistance are necessary to meet the growing demand for reasonably priced housing that the market can’t produce by itself.  We also need to invest in a balanced approach that includes housing production & preservation; rental & homeownership; new construction & rehab, large & small projects; and investments in urban, rural and suburban communities.
  3. Embrace smart growth policies:  For the past 12 years, starting with Governor Romney and continuing with Governor Patrick, the Commonwealth has embraced a smart growth framework to guide our economic development, housing, environmental and transportation policies. Adopting policies, like those outlined by the MA Smart Growth Alliance, will save money for public infrastructure, provide the scale and density necessary for sustained economic growth, address climate change, respond to the growing market demand for urban, walkable places, and protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources.  Smart growth also promotes regional equity – improving the quality-of-life in distressed neighborhoods and expanding opportunities in higher income places so we all benefit.
  4. Grow local economies: The Governor-elect has already committed to put at least $2 million in his budget for MGCC’s Small Business Technical Assistance program that provides grants to local nonprofits working to support small businesses, in particular those run by immigrants, people of color and women.  The new Administration should build on this by supporting MGCC and a network of strong local/regional CDFIs that can provide loans to new and growing small businesses who are not yet bankable.  And the Administration should embrace the newly enacted Transformative Development Initiative for Gateway Cities and look to expand it if it proves successful during its pilot stage.
  5. Leverage the power of place: In recent years, a number of exciting programs have demonstrated the power of investing in cross-sector, placed-based efforts to expand economic opportunity and improve the quality-of-life in our neighborhoods and towns – without displacing the very residents who help make those improvements possible.  The Federal Reserve Bank’s Working Cities program, the Smart Growth Alliance’s Great Neighborhoods program and LISC’s Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program offer terrific models for state government to use in crafting its own approach.
  6. Support municipal capacity: The Baker Administration should build local municipal capacity to get things done. This should include actively encouraging/helping cities and towns to enact the Community Preservation Act, to establish Business Improvement Districts, to develop long-term housing plans, to zone for smart growth, and to pass inclusionary zoning ordinances that promote equitable development for people across all income levels.
  7. Strengthen the CDC sector: The Governor-elect has enthusiastically committed to fully implement the Community Investment Tax Credit by deploying all $6 million in credits each year and helping to recruit private sector partners to the program.  The state can further help by investing directly in the myriad projects and programs offered by CDCs in partnership with local residents and stakeholders.  These investments provide taxpayers with an important “two-fer”: (1) a well-designed, community-driven project or program, and (2) increased local capacity to ensure long-term stewardship and further investment.
  8. Promote family asset building:  Income and wealth inequality are growing problems not just in Massachusetts, but across the country.  Reversing these trends will be difficult, but the state can help by supporting programs that empower families to save money, build assets, gain financial skills, avoid predatory financial products, and in some cases, become homeowners.
  9. Connect the Dots:  There is a growing body of evidence documenting that investments in strong neighborhoods and safe, affordable housing provide returns across a wide array of social goals, including public health, educational attainment, environmental protection, energy efficiency, and public safety.  We need to invest more in these up-stream measures that reduce long-term costs and improve life outcomes for children and families.
  10. Collaborate with community-based organizations – I was pleased to hear Governor-elect Baker say at our Convention last month that he would want to meet with us on a regular basis throughout his administration.  He has already demonstrated that interest during the campaign, meeting with the MACDC Board of Directors, visiting local CDCs and coming to our Convention. We look forward to building a strong partnership with the Administration.

Good luck with the transition, Mr. Governor-elect.  And please know that the CDC community is ready to help and ready to get to work.