Boston — Describing the housing market as “more stable” since the height of the foreclosure crisis, the Patrick administration’s top housing official on Thursday asked lawmakers to support a four-year $567 million spending program that he said will both create affordable housing and jobs.
“The construction of affordable housing leads to direct jobs and we have created 17,000 jobs through our programs since 2007,” said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for housing and economic development.
Gornstein testified Thursday before the Joint Committee on Housing at a hearing on Gov. Deval Patrick’s housing bond bill. The committee was also taking testimony on a similar five-year, $1 billion housing bond bill filed by the committee’s chairmen, Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Boston).
The administration’s bill also assumes that it will be able to spend the nearly $500 million in unspent affordable housing authorizations over the next several years. The Eldridge-Honan bill cancels previous unspent authorizations and outlines a new $1 billion plan.
One of the major differences between the administration’s bill and the Eldridge-Honan bill is a new $45 million Early Education and Out of School Time capital fund that the two lawmakers have proposed to support building new facilities and modernizing existing child care facilities catering to low-income children.
“I am pleased that the Joint Committee on Housing has recognized the importance of quality child care facilities in creating healthy and vibrant neighborhoods,” said Leo Delaney, president of the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care.
Gornstein said he has not spoken to Patrick about the proposed child care fund, but expressed some concern that capital spending on the education program from the DHCD budget would crowd out available resources for housing. He said it might be better for the program to be included under another secretariat’s bond cap.
Roger Herzog, executive director of the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, called the child care fund a “critically important residential service to achieving financial independence” for low-income families.
Clark Ziegler, director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, said economic recovery has not alleviated the need for new affordable housing, citing Census data that showed 160,000 “extremely low-income” families in Massachusetts unable to find housing through the private market.
“The need has never been greater, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Ziegler told lawmakers.
He also lent his support to maintaining the $20 million authorization for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a program currently under review as part of the Patrick administration’s overhaul of tax expenditures and one scheduled to decrease to $10 million.
Rep. Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat, testified to the need for affordable housing, particularly in communities like Somerville. “One of the unfortunate ways Massachusetts is leading the nation is the gap between its richer and poorer residents,” Provost said.
Provost said the foreclosure crisis left many former market rate units “vacant and deteriorating” and called Attorney General Martha Coakley’s receivership programs for foreclosed property a good idea but a “glacially slow process” that leaves little option in most cases but to gut the properties and covert homes into high-end condominiums.
“We need to be producing housing which is affordable to people who work and raise families, not just the very wealthy who happen to come to our communities. God bless their success, but we need something besides this increasingly competitive market,” Provost said.