Massachusetts’s Affordable Housing Law

As crucial elections take place around the country today, we’ll be watching the outcome of Massachusetts’s ballot question #2, which, if passed, would eliminate 40B, the state’s 41-year-old law designed to boost construction of low- and moderate-income housing.

Specfically, the law allows for developers to circumvent local zoning to fulfill a goal of providing 10 percent housing affordability within a community. The law, dubbed the “Anti-Snob Zoning Law,” has, naturally been used by those looking to repeal the law, this time by way of the Coalition to Repeal 40B, as a way of saying that more affordable housing increases local tax burdens, despite the fact that the law, which allows zoning boards of appeals to approve dense developments if up to 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability, has been responsible for 80 percent of the affordable housing created in Massachusetts over the past decade, outside the major cities, according to The Campaign to Protect the Affordable Housing Law. The campaign also argues that 40B has created 50,000 construction jobs and $9 billion in economic activity over the past decade.

According to The Boston Globe, only 54 of the state’s 310 towns have achieved that 10 percent goal, leaving much work still to be done.

The problem we see here is that while the law, which has been criticized for, according to the Globe “too little oversight [that] allows developers of affordable housing projects to reap larger profits than allowable — the law caps profits, depending on the type of development — by exaggerating costs,” might be flawed, much as New Jersey’s embattled affordable housing law has been depicted, we’re not seeing clear alternatives. We’ll be watching this one closely.

Matthew Brian Hersh served as senior editor at Shelterforce from March 2008 to October 2012. He studied English at Rutgers University and has spent his professional career in journalism, policy, and politics.


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