BOSTON (CBS) — Governor Charlie Baker announced a revamped $275 million COVID-19 recovery package to help spur economic growth as Massachusetts continues to fight coronavirus.
“Our cities and towns across the Commonwealth need support to confront the economic challenges that have been brought on by this virus,” Baker said Friday. “We’re seeking changes to our original bill to invest more in low-income communities of color and minority-owned businesses that have been particularly hard hit by COVID.”
According to the governor, proposed changes include an additional $15 million for neighborhood stabilization, bringing the total to $40 million; an additional $25 million for community development financial institutions to assist small businesses, bringing the total to $35 million; and tripling funding for grants to support micro-businesses from a total of $5 million to $15 million.
“These proposals will bring safe, affordable housing units back onto the market, give women, minority, veteran, and immigrant small business owners access to capital to grow their enterprises, and support early-stage businesses with grants and technical assistance,” said Baker.
“Since the end of the formal session is right around the corner, we hope this bill can move quickly so that we can give communities and small businesses across the Commonwealth the tools and the support that they need to recover and move forward.”
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said coronavirus worsened gaps for small businesses that were not able to take advantage of federal programming. “Small businesses throughout the Commonwealth have been very patient and cooperative as we have combated COVID-19 and continue to do so. And they have certainly sacrificed a lot in the interest of our public health and our safety.”
The proposals give preference to businesses in low and moderate-income areas or those owned by women, veterans, immigrants, or minorities, Polito said.
“We have a great opportunity to take a really good bill and target it even more toward advancing equity, a challenge that long proceeded COVID-19, as well as economic recovery from this devastating pandemic. We look to stabilize the neighborhoods that were hardest hit, to support minority-owned businesses with record levels of funding, and to position the state for continued growth in emerging innovation sectors,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said.
Coronavirus added a new spotlight on the need for affordable housing, especially as people need to socially distance, work remotely, and conduct school from home.
“Zoning laws around the country have been a tool used to exclude,” Kennealy said. “The current system has produced harmful results for minority populations and communities before COVID-19, and it now produces consequences that are outright dangerous to these communities during the outbreak.”
Within the proposed bill is the ability for cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices through a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority.
“Without meaningful zoning reform, we will continue to see more of the same, negative impacts on equity, housing affordability, and access to jobs,” Kennealy said.
Massachusetts is one of only a few states to require a supermajority to change local zoning.
While Kennealy said the housing crisis won’t be solved with this one single act, “this package today will put our state in a position to produce the housing we need to meet our current demands…we’re optimistic that the time is ripe for real, lasting change that gives cities and towns the flexibility to do what they know to be best for their communities.”
The proposal also supports transit-focused housing and climate-resistant affordable housing.