[Hpn] Swift: I won't cut affordable housing; Speaks in Marlborough about Chapter 40B
Morgan W. Brown
Sat, 17 Nov 2001 00:09:51 -0500
Friday, November 16, 2001
MetroWest Daily News <http://www.metrowestdailynews.com>
Local News section
Swift: I won't cut affordable housing; Speaks in Marlborough about Chapter
By John Gregg
Friday, November 16, 2001
MARLBOROUGH - Acting Gov. Jane Swift yesterday pledged continued support for
a controversial state law that promotes the development of affordable
And housing activists said low-cost housing is still desperately needed in
many communities, even though the slowing economy has also hit the real
Swift, speaking at the second annual "Governor's Conference on Housing,"
said she would veto any attempts to allow towns to count Section 8 residents
or prisoners housed in a local community toward a 10-percent target for
Under the 32-year-old law known as Chapter 40B, developers of projects that
include affordable units can skirt some local zoning laws in towns that
don't meet the state's 10 percent threshold for affordable units.
"I continue to stand by 40B, and I will veto any efforts to weaken this
important law," Swift said.
Reforms to the 40B law - which many local officials say foists unwanted
development on their towns - are in a House-Senate conference, and Swift
said she also would "offer a resounding 'no' " to attempts to lower the
affordable-housing threshold to 5 percent.
In a carefully worded description of the state's $1.4 billion fiscal
deficit, Swift offered some limited protection for housing programs funded
by the state.
"No homeless-shelter funding would be cut under my plan, and there wouldn't
be any reduction in housing programs that directly impact individuals being
served," she said.
Wellesley College economics professor Karl Case, who specializes in the real
estate market, said the recent housing boom had hurt working families. The
largest increase in a "repeat sales" index over the past six years found
prices in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood had increased more than any other
Massachusetts community, by 179 percent, to $241,000.
Such prices, Case said, threaten to force lower-income families from
"What happens is demand gets pushed down and affects those neighborhoods
that have good stock, but traditionally have not housed higher-income folks,
and there's obviously price pressure, displacement and all the things that
happen," Case said.
Even though the real estate market has slowed considerably, the supply of
affordable housing remains tight, Case said.
"Don't expect much relief from this downturn on the housing price side, and
don't expect, obviously, much relief on the affordability issue at the
bottom end of the distribution ... particularly if the downturn is
short-lived," said Case.
The housing conference drew more than 700 activists and state and local
officials to the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel in Marlborough, and another
100 had to be turned away to prevent overcrowding.
Organizers said they were heartened by the interest, and Case noted that
affordable housing normally has trouble drawing political support because 68
percent of Americans already own their own homes.
"There's no real political constituency for (affordable) housing, although I
love to see this room," Case said. "If you own, you love housing inflation,
because your capital is appreciating in value."
Another keynote speaker, former Albuquerque mayor David Rusk, said housing
patterns are unfairly concentrating too many low-income families in
neighborhoods with failing schools and other social problems.
"Jim Crow by income is replacing Jim Crow by race, and indeed, that is why
you have this sort of housing conference," said Rusk.
Philip Wright of the 135-bed United Homes Shelter in Dorchester, said he was
glad to hear Swift support funding for homeless shelters, but said most
state housing programs are targeted only toward working families.
"She didn't address the lowest-income people, people who are zero to 30
percent of the median income," Wright said. "Most of the affordable housing
goes to people who are 80 percent of median, so it doesn't really help the
people we serve."
Wright said demand for beds at his shelter grew by 25 percent over the
summer. "We're expecting a 50 percent increase in the winter," he added.
And Jo-Ann Howe, the director of the Sudbury Housing Authority, said a
"tremendous need" still exists in her town for affordable housing for
Edwin Shanahan, the CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said the
Chapter 40B law remains an important component to build affordable housing,
given the shortage of land in Massachusetts and antipathy to new
"I think 40B is working," Shanahan said. "We still have the issues of how
long it takes, and how quickly we can get housing on line in Massachusetts."
Marlborough Mayor William Mauro said his city had dealt with two large
affordable housing projects by negotiating with developers, rather than
trying to block the 40B process.
"You can become friendly to your developers and get your benefits, even
under 40B," Mauro said.
Swift, in her 15-minute speech, also noted another irony commonly voiced in
MetroWest communities - that many teachers and municipal workers can't buy
homes near work.
"Even the heroes of these past months - the firefighters and police - can't
often afford to live in the towns where they serve," Swift said.
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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