40B 'affordable' housing reform

40B 'affordable' housing reform

Posted in the Holden Forum

Jen Shenk

Fitchburg, MA

#1 Oct 10, 2007
Right now is our first real chance to reform the state’s so-called “affordable” housing law, Chapter 40B, the bane of small towns and neighborhoods everywhere. A grassroots organization has formed across the state, with all of us gathering signatures to get the measure on the ballot. It’s a monumental task, gathering 65,000+ signatures statewide by the end of November, but if we all pitch in, we can do it, one town at a time. That’s why I’ve taken the lead in Westminster, but I need help to gather as many signatures as possible in North Central Massachusetts.

In most cases all you have to do is mention 40B, and people are happy to sign the petition—it’s an extremely unpopular law, and has done great damage to communities while being remarkably unsuccessful in creating “affordable” housing. The italics around “affordable” are intentional—in the same sense that “Deer Run Estates” tells a prospective buyer that there are no estates or deer in sight.“Affordable” is a very deceiving term—it tells you the houses, condos, or apartments built are not affordable for low income people, and it also tells you that the houses, condos, or apartments are price controlled, meaning that the unwary buyer can never sell them at a profit. Our goal is not to repeal all of 40B, but to fix 40B, making it actually produce real affordable housing while improving local control. Right now 40B is a state-sponsored, tax-funded handout to large, wealthy land developers, and we think that is not right.

A major goal of this ballot initiative is to put a real appeals process in place, when towns and developers disagree. Right now the only place to appeal decisions by the state bureaucracy in charge of 40B is to that very same bureaucracy, to a 40B-created department called the HAC (Housing Appeals Committee). That is why communities almost always lose (usually 89% of the time) to the developers in the appeals process. The DHCD and HAC like to say that communities work together with developers to come to a mutually beneficial development plan. That’s a big lie. The communities have to cave in to the developers because there is nowhere neutral to take an appeal.

Not only is 40B, in its current form, harmful to communities, it doesn’t even help create real affordable housing. Poor people don’t qualify for 40B housing, and 40B-created housing isn’t cheap—it’s priced so that a person making no less than 70% of the median income, but no more than 80%, can buy the price controlled housing. In Ashburnham as an example, that means that you can only qualify for this type of housing if you make between $45,100 and $51,600 a year. More or less than that, and you don’t qualify. And, the price is held constant by price controls. If you buy your house for $130K and sell it 10 years later, the market of sellers is limited by the income restrictions, while the price is limited to the CPI index. You’d be a lot better off renting. For the young people in our state who are forced to move out, 40B rentals aren’t cheap either: you cannot earn more than $32k but must pay $980 a month on rent (this is an example from a suburban community along 495). Find me someone who earns less than $32k a year but who can afford a $1k per month apartment.
There’s no doubt that MA needs more affordable housing. After 38 years of Chapter 40B, we rank 49th in national housing affordability! Since 2000, housing affordability has plummeted 44% and that was with record numbers of 40B projects being built!

Help us reform this law so that more affordable homes are built, so that more people can afford them, and very importantly, to take the power away from big, out of town developers and give it back to the towns and municipalities of MA.

You’ll find more information and sources for statistics at www.repeal40b.com

You may contact me at [email protected]
One of the good Guys

Newton, MA

#2 Jan 26, 2010
What a shame that hypocrites claiming they support affordable housing would put this legislation at risk.

40B has created more than 70% of all affordable housing in this state of late, yet somehow, people claim it's counter-productive.

Over 1/3 of all development of housing in Massachusetts was built because of 40B, and the reason our pricing is so high is most evident now in this economic downturn. We have such a tremendous lack of homes and apartments on the market, and such a high density of population, that even with massive unemployment, Massachusetts apartments are still 95% occupied, and barely have reduced rents.(posted 1/24/10)

So the NIMBY solution? Destroy the most effective mechanism of housing production and affordable housing production we have. 40 B was enacted because of the very zoning it evades. MA towns have become so afraid of the type of people affordable housing might garner, that they use home-rule permitting processes to effectively block or delay into perpetuity any new development.

Without 40B, this state will continue to lose the educated population we've been bleeding for the past half-decade, and with that group, we also lose the corporations that employ them.

Employers once the mainstay of our economy, can no longer afford to employ talent here due to the cost of housing, so they leave, taking their economic vitality and taxes elsewhere, and the ability for our government to maintain our infrastructure, schools and safety.

Don't be foolish and jump on this alarmist bandwagon. Save 40B, and save Massachusetts!

Lifelong MA Resident

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