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No to Question 2

Opinion | October 26, 2010

For Massachusetts voters, November 2nd marks the deciding day in a close, contentious race between incumbent Governor Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker.

But a little farther down on the ballot there’s question that hasn’t gotten as much press or attention, but could very well have an even greater impact on the lives on working families and senior citizens in the state. It is Question #2,  a referendum calling for the repeal of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Law. The law, known as Chapter 40B, is the primary means by which households making less than

$50,000 a year can afford a home. A repeal would be disastrous for these families, while voting “No” on Question #2 would uphold a law that serves as a model for the nation.

The law, which went into effect in 1969, aims for cities and towns to reach the level where ten percent of the housing is “affordable” for families earning 80% or less of the median income.  In communities where the ten percent threshold has not been achieved, developers can be granted more flexible zoning rules for developments that include affordable housing. Under 40B, if developers are denied the authority to build by the municipalities, they have the right to appeal to a state board, which can overturn the decision.

Massachusetts has become an exceedingly expensive place to live over the last several generations, and is currently one of the most expensive states in the union.  Much of this is due to the rising housing costs, which have forced many people out of the neighborhoods they grew up in, and discouraged businesses from settling in the state. Workers often find themselves unable to live in the cities in which they are unemployed, and students find no other option but to look for jobs elsewhere upon graduation. Senior citizens can no longer afford to retire in the state where their families live and they have made spent their lives. Newly single mothers often cannot stay in the towns where their kids have been attending school. The effects of expensive housing have had ripple effects on other areas of the economy, and made it difficult for middle-class families to stay afloat, especially in the midst of a devastating economic environment.

40B has worked to mitigate the effects of these skyrocketing housing prices, and achieved many of its desired results. Over the past decade, the law has been responsible for 80% of the affordable housing created in Massachusetts outside major cities.  In 1997, 24 communities had reached the 10% affordability threshold; today there are 51 cities that have met that goal. In eastern Massachusetts, on average over an acre is needed for a housing development, making new construction nearly impossible in the generally dense area. 40B has allowed developers to bypass these strict laws and provide homes for thousands of families in the state.

Besides adding affordable housing, the construction authorized by this law has led to many jobs, a much needed boost to the current dismal economy. If Question 2 passes, and the housing law is repealed, it would halt the construction of 12,000 projects that have been approved because of the flexibilities that the law allows.

Detractors of the bill often argue that the law gives the state excessive power, allowing it to overstep its authority and impede in the local process.  In reality, however, the vast majority of decisions are still made at the local level. The law gives the developers the chance to appeal a local decision if necessary, but, in practice, this measure is rarely needed. Some critics call the law “developer welfare” and cite instances where developers have made excessive profits. While these cases are unacceptable, such behavior is actually prohibited under the current law, and steps have been taken to increase oversight. Profits made by developers using 40B are actually capped at 20%, making it the only the only law in the state that limits developers’ profits.

In an age marked by political corruption, broken promises, and apathy, citizens are feeling increasingly unsure of what they’re really voting for at the ballot box. Voters should take comfort, then, in the unambiguous results that defeating the 2nd ballot initiative ensures. By protecting the Affordable Housing Law, voters are standing up for a program with a proven record. While no one can ever be completely sure that the leaders they vote for will represent the interests of average people, voting to protect the Affordable Housing Law unequivocally does just that. It has allowed residents of the state to afford the cost-of-living, and has created thousands of jobs.

Many voters going to the polls this Tuesday are looking for measures that will have their interests at heart. The Affordable Housing Law unequivocally advances these interests, and must be protected. Please stand with thousands of religious, environmental and community organizations, and leaders—including outspoken supporter President Larry Bacow—and vote “no” on ballot question 2.