Clergy leaders repeat their call for action on housing

More than 115 members of the Massachusetts clergy signed onto an open letter to House and Senate leadership on Sunday, saying that “it is clear that the issue of housing has all but consumed the hearts and minds of our people” and urging the Legislature to take five specific steps to contend with the state’s housing crunch.

The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) letter asks the legislators to increase the public housing operating budget from $107 million to $189 million to fund repairs for vacant units in state-funded public housing, support at least $1.6 billion in capital repair funding for public housing as part of Gov. Healey’s pending housing bond bill, support that same bill’s proposal to authorize cities and towns to levy real estate transfer fees, provide state identification to people leaving incarceration, and increase rental assistance for formerly incarcerated people in need of housing by $6 million.

Housing in Massachusetts is often inaccessible or unaffordable, and Healey last year identified housing as “the number one issue facing this state.” The Legislature is in the midst of renewing the five-year, $4.12 billion housing bond bill (H 4138) that Healey filed seeking to kickstart production of new housing units. And though there is broad agreement that the state has an economic imperative to make more housing available, some pieces of the governor’s bill -– like the potential for local-option real estate transfer taxes – are viewed as controversial in the Legislature because they will add to housing costs.

“We are aware that our state faces urgent budget and shelter crises,” the 117 clergy members who signed the letter said, acknowledging that lawmakers have little wiggle room when it comes to budget decisions lately. “These actions will immediately impact many of our most at-risk neighbors and get people off waiting lists and shelters and into homes. In the long run, decisive action on affordable, secure housing will help avoid such crises as it saves money and helps solve housing problems that afflict us all. They are simple, urgent, and moral solutions that will make a concrete difference on the crisis we face.”

The letter was publicized Sunday at a GBIO event at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, attended by more than 1,700 people, according to organizers. GBIO clergy and volunteers have advocated for a legislative solution to the state’s pressing housing problems since early 2023.

Since October, the organization has held 18 “in-district meetings” to let state lawmakers hear directly from impacted constituents and to publicly respond to the organization’s platform. GBIO said almost 60 elected officials attended, including more than half of the Senate’s leadership group.

“I don’t want to have to say goodbye to another member of my parish because Roxbury’s rent is so sky high,” Father Oscar Pratt of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Roxbury, a GBIO member institution, said. “We are building 217 units of affordable housing around our church. We are bringing solutions and leaving nothing on the table. We need the Legislature to do the same.”

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