The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ballot Question 2:

Should Chapter 40B be repealed? No – save 40B

There are many good reasons to Vote No on Question 2. You can find most of them at:

I won’t stress the moral argument that providing diverse housing opportunities is the right thing to do – more than 200 religious leaders in Massachusetts have signed a petition in support of retaining 40B and they are far more capable of making the morality argument than I am.

And I won’t debunk the arguments of he “Yes on Question 2,” although many of their arguments do not stand up to careful scrutiny, ending up as variations on NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). Their valid argument regarding developers’ fraudulent financial accounting has been addressed by regulatory changes made in 2009 and by civil and criminal prosecutions in several cases.

Rather, I will argue that a No vote is a matter of self-interest, for your own finances, for Carlisle and for the Commonwealth.

40B’s stated purpose is to encourage cities and towns to provide a range of housing options. As such, communities with less than 10% of their housing stock deemed affordable are subject to an override of restrictive local zoning. Of the 351 municipalities, 54 are currently at or above 10% (including Lexington, Bedford and Lincoln), while another 67 are at or above 7% (including Ipswich and Littleton).

40B has worked and continues to work successfully. As of April 2010, there are 59,289 homes and apartments built since 1970 under 40B and over half of them are affordable at 80% (or less) of the median income. Projects in just the last ten years resulted in $9.25 billion in economic activity and 47,683 jobs in Massachusetts. Projects already permitted but not yet issued a building-permit by December 31, 2010, would be delayed or cancelled if Question 2 passes. These projects are worth another $750 million and would provide 7,000 jobs. At a time when the Massachusetts unemployment rate is 8.8% we need to put people to work.

Carlisle already spent $2.1 million to acquire the 45-acre Benfield site, and has spent at least an additional $100K in planning, engineering and legal expenses.

If Question 2 passes, the repeal of 40B will void the Comprehensive Permit issued by Carlisle’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The Benfield Senior Housing Project will have to be cancelled unless we change the zoning bylaws (as was done to build Village Court in the 1980s). That will mean a further delay in a project that has the demonstrated support of an overwhelming majority of Carlisle expressed by at least four Town Meeting votes.

These 26 units of affordable senior housing are needed by current residents of Carlisle who are finding it very hard to stay in Carlisle. There are more than a few of your neighbors who are at risk of foreclosure – several foreclosures in 2010 were only prevented by the intervention of the town’s Housing Authority with state regulators and elected officials. As of today, there are 93 seniors on the waiting list – 86 of them are Carlisle residents or otherwise affiliated.

Building Benfield will provide an economic boost to the town, including construction jobs to build this $7 million project and the addition of several million dollars in real property to the town’s tax base.

Affordable housing isn’t welfare. In the Greater Boston area, a family of four earning $64,000 a year qualifies, or a retired couple living on $52,000 qualify. Many of you have children whose income would be under the limits of 40B. And in fact, despite the high median income in Carlisle, many of the people reading this article are well below those income limits.

A key to Massachusetts’ continued economic growth is the ability to attract and retain an educated work force. When housing costs make it impossible for teachers, engineers, nurses and biotech scientists to live here, the major industries in Massachusetts can’t expand. When graduate students complete their degrees and move to another state to start new businesses, Massachusetts suffers from the lost human capital as well as the lost income and sales taxes.

If we don’t attract and retain these people in Massachusetts when they are starting out, they aren’t going to be here to buy our houses when we want to retire and downsize.

When you consider that Chambers of Commerce, major corporations, unions, the League of Women Voters, and the AARP support 40B you have to see that there is a broad base of support.

I urge you to vote on November 2, and I encourage you to vote No on Question 2. ∆

Yes – end 40B

On November 2nd, I will vote Yes on Question 2 and support the repeal of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Law, commonly referred to simply as 40B. I support the repeal because I believe the program has become ineffective; the integrity of the program has been compromised; I disagree with the means by which the program creates affordable housing; and finally, I believe that by repealing 40B we can adopt other, more successful, tools for creating affordable housing.

Adopted in 1969, the goal of 40B is to encourage the production of no less than 10% affordable housing stock within each of the State’s 351 municipalities. When housing is built under a 40B Comprehensive Permit, developers must agree to limit their profit and to include no less than 25% of the units as affordable. 40B developments may also include commercial infrastructure such as coffee shops, convenience stores, dry cleaners, health clubs and other ancillary businesses.

From 1969 to 2000, 40B was used by local housing authorities, non-profit organizations and private developers who specialized in the construction and management of affordable rental housing. During this period, 40B created over 26,000 units of housing of which 73.4% were affordable. Since then, the number of for-profit developers using 40B has increased. In contrast to the success of the preceding 30 years, during the period between 2000 and 2006, the total number of new housing units created under 40B increased to 28,000, yet the number of affordable units decreased to only 29.7%.

Over its lifetime 40B is credited with the creation of 31,000 units of affordable housing. However, what is often not discussed are the approximate 13,000 units that are in jeopardy of being lost due to expiring use conditions in 2012. With Massachusetts habitually ranked at the bottom of the housing affordability index, currently 46th in the country, the effectiveness of 40B toward solving our affordable housing needs is suspect. 40B has evolved into a housing development plan that subsidizes and develops market rate units at three times the rate of affordable unit production.

Under 40B, developers must agree to limit their profits and to return any excess profits to the community. The Inspector General (IG) has investigated this issue of cost certification and oversight of profits and found that “40B represents one of the biggest financial scandals in state history.” Rather than adopt the recommendations from the IG and the Senate committee on Post Audit and Oversight, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), charged with the management oversight of 40B, instead chose to circle their wagons to protect developer interests causing the integrity of the program to be questioned. As the Boston Herald recently noted, “40B has become . . . a cottage industry for profit-driven developers, consultants and lawyers, who have found creative ways to get around the statutory limit on proceeds.”

The means is as important as the end. Described by a leading environmental policy and planning professional, 40B is “punitive” and it “obliterates all local land use, fiscal and planning control, it ignores countless other critical issues facing cities and towns . . . and imposes a one size fits all policy that insults the distinctions” between the diverse regions of Massachusetts. 40B has no basis in sound land use planning standards, has no counterpart anywhere else in the country and it shatters the home rule assumption as community vision and local control become preempted by 40B’s forced zoning override.

DHCD has an FY2010 budget of $1.4 billion for housing, homelessness and community-related services. In addition to 40B, DHCD is responsible for more policies and programs related to affordable housing than space here allows. Consequently, voting Yes on Question 2 will not stop the development of affordable housing but will redirect existing funds to better performing programs and will open the door for discussions of successful affordable housing alternatives as adopted and proven in other states, such as inclusionary zoning. ∆

What is Chapter 40B?

Chapter 40B is a state statute which permits developers to build higher density housing than allowed under local zoning bylaws if at least 25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. Also known as the Comprehensive Permit Law, Chapter 40B was enacted in 1969 to help address the shortage of affordable housing statewide.

How much affordable housing is required?

The state mandates that a minimum of 10% of housing in every city and town must be affordable. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito