Mass. bishops urge no vote on Affordable Housing Law repeal

BRAINTREE -- Massachusetts' Catholic bishops are urging voters not to approve a November ballot question that would eliminate the state's Affordable Housing Law.

Question 2 on this year's ballot asks voters to repeal Chapter 40B, Massachusetts' Affordable Housing Law.

Lawmakers enacted Chapter 40B in 1969 to encourage the construction of affordable housing. The law allows developers to bypass some local zoning restrictions to develop affordable housing in communities with affordable housing stock at less than 10 percent

"As Catholics, we believe in the dignity of the human person, and that a home is central to that dignity," said a Sept. 21 statement signed by the state's four ordinaries, Boston Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman, Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell and Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus.

The bishops called the Affordable Housing Law "a critical resource in the commonwealth that should be preserved."

Lisa Alberghini, President of the Archdiocese of Boston's Planning Office for Urban Affairs, which develops affordable and mixed-income housing in cities and towns across the archdiocese, supports the bishops' statement and says that Chapter 40B builds communities.

"The strength of the bishops' support for the Affordable Housing Law underscores the significant need for affordable housing across the commonwealth and the important work being done to meet that need," she said. "In our daily efforts to create vibrant communities through the development of high quality affordable and mixed income housing, we see first-hand this demand which is far from being met. Chapter 40B helps us provide residents of the commonwealth with dignified, affordable homes, and should remain intact."

However, opponents of the law, such as Affordable Housing Now, an organization urging voters to repeal Chapter 40B by selecting yes on Question 2, claim that the decades-old law has not resulted in the development of sufficient affordable housing and has, in fact, driven up the cost of housing in the state.

Alberghini said that under Chapter 40B, 12,000 units of affordable housing have been constructed. She said that the Archdiocese of Boston built the first such property in the state in 1975 -- Northridge Homes in Beverly, which contains 98 units of mixed income housing.

Two properties currently underway are Rose Hill Manor, an affordable elderly housing complex on grounds adjacent to St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Billerica, and Barstow Village in Hanover.

Cardinal O'Malley is scheduled to participate in a groundbreaking for Rose Hill Oct. 20.

"The law is a tool that encourages communities to have affordable housing in their cities and towns," Alberghini said. "If this (initiative) were passed and the law were eliminated it would stop or substantially reduce any affordable housing units."

She praised the bishops for issuing their statement.

"They've shown great leadership in making this statement and asking people to keep this law intact," Alberghini said. "It's an important tool to help our neighbors in need. It's a way we can build vibrant communities and take care of one another."