September 21, 2010
As the Roman Catholic Bishops in Massachusetts, we appeal today to the Catholic community and to our fellow citizens of Massachusetts to sustain and support the Massachusetts affordable housing law. We do this because Question 2, placed on the November 2nd statewide ballot, proposes to eliminate an important law that has been an essential part of our State's effort to provide housing for all the citizens of the Commonwealth since 1969. The Affordable Housing Law, often referred to by its statutory title, "Chapter 40B," has led to the construction of over 58,000 units for seniors, young working families and disabled persons in communities throughout Massachusetts. Chapter 40B is a critical resource in the Commonwealth, and it should be preserved.
Chapter 40B was established in part through the work of the Catholic Church to catalyze communities to build affordable housing. Through our diocesan social service offices, the Church has collaborated in the building of affordable homes and offered our support for community planning pursuant to Chapter 40B. Thus we know from experience that no other state program or tool has been as effective as Chapter 40B. The law has been responsible for approximately eighty percent of the housing for low and moderate income households created in suburban regions over the past decade. Moreover, one hundred cities and towns have implemented affordable housing plans because they recognize that Chapter 40B initiatives strengthen their neighborhoods and provide for their residents.
The stories we hear in our parishes and through our diocesan ministries are painful: families made homeless when they lost their house to foreclosure; families paying high rents for apartments that are in poor condition or are far from good schools and good jobs; young middle class families who cannot afford to buy homes in the communities in which they grew up; elderly residents on fixed incomes who choose between paying their rent and paying for costly prescription medications; and people with special needs who cannot find homes that are accessible. The current economic crisis affirms the connection between lack of affordable housing and the experience of personal hardship in so many other areas of life.
As Catholics, we believe in the dignity of the human person, and that a home is central to that dignity. Pope John XXIII wrote in 1963 in ''Pacem in Terris'' that every person "has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services." Pope John Paul II saw inadequate access to housing, along with unemployment, as among the most serious problems of the developed world. He wrote in 1987, "the lack of housing, an extremely serious problem in itself, should be seen as a sign and summing-up of a whole series of shortcomings: economic, social, cultural or simply human in nature. Given the extent of the problem, we should need little convincing of how far we are from an authentic development of peoples." The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in 1975 in their pastoral letter ''The Right to a Decent Home'' that society must find better means to address housing shortages: "We must seek to have a qualitative impact on the problem of housing deprivation in our society by attempting to change the system and the policies that result in housing deprivation." The Bishops added that working for better housing was not an isolated task, but instead was "indispensable to the future health of America and its people."
The Commonwealth has developed policies such as Chapter 40B to build a better housing system. We must continue to be proactive in addressing our state's critical housing needs; every community needs a mix of housing in order to be healthy, vibrant and inclusive. Repealing Chapter 40B would result in the loss of a valuable tool that has prompted many cities and towns to build homes for those otherwise unable to secure adequate housing.
Housing is a human right. In recognition of that right, Chapter 40B should remain in effect so that the public and private sectors can continue to promote the development of affordable and mixed-income housing throughout the Commonwealth. Voting "no" on Question 2 will keep Chapter 40B on the books and thus preserve our state's ability to act in the most effective way to meet the need of every individual for a decent affordable home.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston
Bishop George W. Coleman, Bishop of Fall River
Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, Bishop of Springfield
Bishop Robert J. McManus, Bishop of Worcester