[Hpn] House approves changes to affordable housing law...Boston,Ma.

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Tue, 3 Jul 2001 09:38:05 -0400

       House approves changes to affordable housing law

       Tuesday, July 3, 2001

       BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts communities would be able to count
 federal housing vouchers and mobile homes as affordable housing units under
 a bill approved by House lawmakers on Monday.

       The move is seen as a victory for suburban lawmakers who pushed to
 expand the definition of affordable housing under the state's 1969
 "anti-snob zoning" law.

       That law seeks to encourage the development of new, lower-cost
 by requiring communities to keep at least 10 percent of their housing for
 low- or moderate-income families.

       Under the law, communities that do not reach the goal have a harder
 time blocking developers who want to build affordable housing, even if the
 development is in violation of local zoning codes.

       Suburban lawmakers say the law is faulty and lets developers threaten
 massive housing projects as a way of getting local zoning boards to agree
 their proposals.

       "Developers are using the permission granted in (the law) to override
 local zoning," said state Rep. Marie Parente, D-Milford.

       But affordable housing activists say the proposed changes undermine
 the intent of the law.

       "This would allow more than 60 communities off the hook without
 building a single new unit of affordable housing," said Joseph Kriesberg,
 vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development

       Opponents say allowing communities to count federal "Section 8"
 vouchers as affordable housing is confusing because the vouchers are given
 to individuals and can be transferred when they move.

       "They can take this voucher with them to other communities. It would
 be hard to track," said Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton.

       The bill would make other changes, including a threat of sanctions
 against any community that has not already reached their affordable housing
 goal and does not increase its affordable housing stock 2 percent during
 next three years.

       Other highlights of the bill include:

       -- Setting up special commissions to study homelessness and look at
 the definition of affordable housing;

       -- Allowing communities to count Department of Mental Health and
 Department of Mental Retardation group homes as affordable housing;

       -- Allowing communities to add affordable housing units to their
 as soon as they approved instead of waiting for building permits.

       The bill also requires tenants who are served with an eviction notice
 to present a court with back rent and receipts of any repairs made to make
 the apartment livable.

       If the tenant fails to produce the rent and receipts, there will be a
 legal presumption that the landlord is entitled to all the back rent for
 previous six months.

       Republican lawmakers had sought to force tenants who are withholding
 rent to pay into an escrow account until the dispute was resolved.

       The affordable housing bill now heads to the Massachusetts Senate.

       The House last week approved a separate five-year, $508 million
 housing bond bill designed to improve and boost affordable and public

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