by Colin A. Young The invitations aren't in the mail just yet, but Gov. Charlie Baker is already starting to plan out a signing ceremony for his housing production bill, one of his top priorities before the July 31 end of formal sessions. "I really hope that we are able to get this done between now and the end of session," Baker said Thursday at the Statehouse. "What I'd really like more than anything is sometime between now and July 31 to be standing at the base of the steps of the Grand Staircase out there with all of you and a whole bunch of folks from the Legislature standing behind me, filling us all the way to the top of the stairs, celebrating the fact that we're going to get back into the business of housing production here in the commonwealth." The governor gave the keynote address Thursday morning at the Massachusetts Association of Realtors' annual Realtor Day and made the case for his bill, which has yet to surface in either branch of the Legislature, as being critical to the state's future prosperity. "The Baker-Polito administration believes that the biggest threat to our continued prosperity and growth is this lack of housing supply," he said. Baker touted his bill which would allow zoning changes to be made with majority, rather than super-majority approval at the local level, a change that supporters believe would remove a major obstacle to housing development in cities and towns that are each governed by their own zoning rules. Since the 1970s, 80s and early 90s when more than 30,000 new houses were started each year, Baker said, housing production has declined to half that amount or less. The shrinking new supply, he said, has pushed prices so high that low-to-moderate income families have been priced out of housing markets, forcing them to leave the state or commute farther to work. Baker's bill aims to facilitate the production of 135,000 new units by 2025. "For 25 years -- 25 years -- we've been building less than half the new capacity that we built every single year like clockwork for the 30 years before," Baker said Thursday. "And we wonder why we find ourselves at the crisis and crossroads we find ourselves at today." He added, "And there is clearly only really one solution to this. And that is -- everybody agrees on it sort of, conceptually -- which is that we need to build more housing." Last month, the Committee on Housing endorsed a redrafted version (H 4290) of Baker's bill, which is before the House Ways and Means Committee. Others in the House are working on a more broad land use, smart growth and housing production bill which is opposed by the real estate industry but has a majority of House members signed on as supporters. On May 22, the supporters of a bill assembled by Reps. Stephen Kulik and Sarah Peake wrote a letter to Speaker Robert DeLeo saying the proposal "reflects a balance and compromise of concerns and impacts expressed by interested parties in the fields of housing, planning, environment and municipal government." The lawmakers said the Housing Committee's version of Baker's bill, with its recommendation of majority local approval for zoning improvements and special permits that help produce and preserve housing, "can serve as a starting point to modernize the Commonwealth's planning, zoning and permitting rules." "State zoning, planning and subdivision statutes have not been significantly updated since 1975," the legislators wrote in their letter to DeLeo. "Passage of such a bill would be a worthy accomplishment and in line with the House's tradition of reform. In that regard, we respectfully request that the House take action on a comprehensive zoning reform and housing initiative package by the end of session." The letter was signed by Republicans and Democrats, including House Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad. Tamara Small, a government affairs official with the commercial real estate group NAIOP Massachusetts, has said real estate groups support the "balanced bill" filed by Baker but believe provisions in the Kulik-Peake plan "would make it more difficult to build housing in Massachusetts" and make development more expensive and unpredictable. Baker said Thursday that the Massachusetts Municipal Association's support for his bill has been critical and that his conversations with legislative leaders have been positive. "We can't leave this housing reform as unfinished business," Baker said. "The housing issue is too important to our economy, to our communities and to our future. And it's too important to the families that need homes."