I was proud to take part in the excitement yesterday at the Legislative Hearing on Senate Bill 90, An Act to Sustain Community Preservation. Members of Community Preservation Committees from across the state as well as legislators came out in full force to support the bill. The Community Preservation Coalition superbly organized the hundred-plus supporters at a pre-hearing program at the State House - distributing green support stickers and energizing the group with a sequence of high-profile speakers.
Clarissa Rowe, chair of the Coalition's steering committee, began the program by introducing former state senator Bob Durand as the "father of CPA." Durand called the bill, which will strengthen the Community Preservation Act, one of the "crown jewels" in a tough legislative year - a bill that will help cities and towns across the Commonwealth. Durand, and many of the speakers following him, emphasized that this bill is really an economic stimulus bill.
Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, explained the economic importance of CPA, "Every time we fix-up an old building, construct housing, or build a new park, we are providing jobs. It's critically important to provide this stimulation just at a time when we are moving away from a bad economy."
Wearing our green stickers proudly, we made our way into the Gardner Auditorium for the hearing before the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business (Committee).
Although the first testimony heard was for a different bill (Senate Bill 86), it turned out to be pertinent to arguments in favor of SB 90. Barry Bluestone, founding director of the Northeastern University Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, testified that the results of the soon-to-be-released Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2009 were surprising. He expected housing to be more affordable than in the recent past, but this is not the case for the metro Boston region, which includes 161 municipalities. In fact, home prices are more unaffordable than before the recession. He emphasized that housing cost is a critical component of our economy.
Representative Carolyn Dykema, a member of the Committee, attested to the importance of CPA on our economy, "People live here because the quality of life is so tremendous - beautiful scenery, historic buildings. . ." Dykema cited the 2009 CNBC Poll "America's Top States for Business" where Massachusetts ranked 8th overall in the nation for business-friendliness. The state's high scores for quality of life (6th) as well as education (1st) and access to capital (2nd) were critical factors that offset the low score of 36th in the nation for cost of living. She stressed that SB 90, which will strengthen CPA, will have a direct business and economic impact for the Commonwealth.
The supportive testimony for SB 90 continued into the afternoon with Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, Representative Stephen Kulik, Stuart Saginor, Executive Director of the Community Preservation Coalition, Kathy Abbott, Executive Vice President of The Trustees of Reservations, Jeff Sacks, board member of Citizens' Housing and Planning Association, Jim Igoe, President of Preservation Massachusetts, and the list goes on and on.
Be sure to check back soon for my upcoming article on SB 90 in the New England Planning News (the newsletter of the MA and RI chapters of the American Planning Association).
(Also, check out my post on MHP's Recipe for Growth for more information about the link between economic growth and cost of housing.)