[Hpn] Swift: I won't cut affordable housing; Speaks in Marlborough about Chapter 40B

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Sat, 17 Nov 2001 00:09:51 -0500


-------Forwarded article-------

Friday, November 16, 2001
MetroWest Daily News <http://www.metrowestdailynews.com>
[Massachusetts]
Local News section
Swift: I won't cut affordable housing; Speaks in Marlborough about Chapter 
40B
<http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/local_regional/mbohousing11162001.htm>

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 
housing.

And housing activists said low-cost housing is still desperately needed in 
many communities, even though the slowing economy has also hit the real 
estate market.

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 
affordable housing.

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 
once-affordable neighborhoods.

"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 
families.

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 
development.

"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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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA



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