There are three questions on the ballot for the voters’ consideration in Tuesday’s election. Our readers no doubt are well-familiar with Questions 1 and 3, which call for a repeal of the sales tax on liquor and for a rollback of the general sales tax to three percent respectively.
However, Question 2, which seeks to repeal the state’s affordable housing law (commonly known as Chapter 40B), has received little attention from the media and is not well understood by the public. (When we asked around our newsroom what people thought of “the Chapter 40B question,” the universal response was, “What’s chapter 40B?”)
We would note initially that the particular sections of Mass. General Law Chapter 40B that are the target of Question 2, sections 20-23, initially were enacted in 1969. Thus, this is not some new law that is having unexpected consequences. Rather, it is a statute that has been on the books for two generations and generally is acknowledged to have worked well.
The sections of 40B in question provide for two essential elements: First, that every community in the state must have 10 percent of its housing units be deemed affordable and second, that in communities that have not met the 10 percent threshold (and that are not making progress toward that goal), a development with some affordable housing units may go forward even if it is not in compliance with that community’s restrictive zoning by laws.
In short, the purpose of the law is to eliminate so called “snob zoning” (a term with which we all are familiar) in the wealthy suburbs in order to allow for the creation of housing in those communities for persons of moderate means. The law also is designed to spread affordable housing throughout the state, rather than concentrate it in our urban areas.
In recent years, the law has been used to create housing units for disparate members of our society, such as senior citizens who wish to downsize to smaller living units, but who want to remain in their home community; young people who need affordable housing in the communities where they grew up; and teachers, police officers, and other public servants who otherwise would be unable to afford to live in many of the communities where they work.
Contrary to the popular perception being put forth by the Repeal 40B forces, who charge that 40B allows out of state developers to run roughshod over local zoning by laws, most of the projects that have been enabled by 40B are small in scale. Habitat for Humanity (which builds small homes for families) estimates that more than 50 per cent of its projects would not have come to fruition without 40B.
However, beside the equitable nature of the 40B law, there are two huge economic reasons why it is in our state’s best interests for the law to remain on the books.
First, Chapter 40B is a huge source of construction jobs in our state. This hardly is the time to vote in favor of a ballot question that will be a job killer.
Second, no one disputes that Massachusetts needs more affordable housing. If what is being said about the future economic reality for our state and nation is true, then our seniors, young people, working poor, and the middle class in general will be in need of affordable homes and apartments. Eliminating 40B projects will work a severe hardship on our citizenry and force many to flee Massachusetts for other states where they can afford to live.
We urge our readers to vote “No” on Question 2.