State legislators preserve affordable housing

BOSTON — House lawmakers took measures to preserve affordable housing in Massachusetts by approving a bill on May 10 that would give communities more protections in meeting the state mandated goal of 10 percent affordable housing.

The bill would amend the existing Chapter 40B law (commonly referred to as 40B) that seeks to provide affordable housing units throughout the commonwealth.

The Chapter 40B law was enacted in 1969 in order to address the shortage of affordable housing statewide by reducing barriers to housing developments. In recent years, the Chapter 40B law has come under fire as city and town leaders complained that developers were given unfair advantages, skirting local zoning codes provided their proposals included affordable housing.

Rep. Kevin Honan, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Committee, told the Associated Press that the bill debated on May 10 — House Bill 4240 — would help balance the need for affordable housing with the concerns of communities trying to protect their local character.

Under the newly approved House bill, the definition of affordable housing would be expanded in order to help communities reach the 10 percent margin. One proposed change would allow communities to include each unit or bed in group-homes run by the departments of mental health and mental retardation as part of their affordable housing units.

In addition, the bill would place a cap on applications submitted by developers to individual communities. Cities and towns that have not met the 10 percent goal would also be able to reject proposals from developers if the community could show progress toward that goal in adding affordable units.

Rep. Brian Golden, D-Brookline, explained to The Pilot that he sponsored the current bill “in order to address what many perceived to be the problems associated with 40B.”

"As the anti-40B virus began to spread, it was high time that those of us who are pro-40B sat down and came up with some solutions that would allow 40B to continue, rather than be overturned," he said.

According to Golden, critics of 40B have been steadily increasing in recent years, often pitting suburban lawmakers who disapprove of the state’s 10 percent mandate against inner-city lawmakers who feel that their districts shoulder the brunt of affordable housing in the state.

In addition, several developers have recently used the affordable housing law to submit plans for unrealistically large housing developments in communities marked by single family homes.

Rep. Frank Hynes, D-Marshfield, one of the staunchest critics of the affordable housing law, told the Associated Press that the state should scrap 40B and replace it with other affordable housing initiatives.

"40B is a failure," Hynes said. "There are other ways to achieve affordable housing."

However, supporters of affordable housing are not so sure.

"40B has been a very useful tool for promoting affordable housing," stated Lisa Alberghini, Director of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs for the Archdiocese of Boston.

"It has been critical to promoting social justice through the development of decent, safe and affordable housing where people can live with dignity and respect in homes they can afford. This law has contributed significantly to the ability of the Church to develop housing for more than 10,000 people across the Archdiocese of Boston," she continued.

"We think that providing affordable housing is a very important social justice issue for our Church. Anything we can do to help affordable housing to continue in Massachusetts is important for us to support."

Gerald D’Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, is also hopeful that the current legislation in the Statehouse will make affordable housing “more accessible to people in the middle- and lower-income range.”

"Historically we have always been very supportive of measures that would enhance affordable housing," he said. By supporting the current legislation, "we're just doing our part in support of the Church's teaching of social justice."

The bill must now go before the Senate, which must vote to approve it before it is enacted into law. Rep. Golden is hopeful that this bill will be voted on before the Senate recesses in July.

"People on both sides of the issue can claim a partial victory with this bill," he said. "Both sides gave in order to agree, yet both sides also came out on top."