Affordable Housing Has Mass. Appeal

Big score for affordable housing Tuesday night in Massachusetts.

One of the races that we watched closely Tuesday night was a vote on a ballot initiative in Massachusetts that would have repealed Chapter 40B — the state’s affordable housing law that allows developers to circumvent local zoning when a town has not met its 10 percent mandate for affordable housing. Specifically, towns can allow for denser development providing that the developer builds in 25 percent of proposed units for long-term affordability.

It was an interesting race, particularly to an outsider, because you had those for the question, that is, to repeal 40B, and then you had those against — including many statewide housing advocates, clergy, planners, and others — against the question.

The pro-repeal group was led, in part by “Affordable Housing Now,” who said 40B, a 40-year-old statute, ‘builds primarily market-rate (non-affordable) housing.” The anti-repeal group, Campaign to Protect the Affordable Housing Law pointed to 40B’s legacy as “the primary tool for the creation of affordable housing across the state.”

What strikes me is that with two organizations who, on the very surface, claim to support affordable housing, that voters were able to see past the branding and vote against a question that would have repealed the law. Affordable housing is taken seriously in the field, but when it comes to a public question, it’s surprising — in a good way — that this question was voted down, and it was voted down handily I might add.

I’ve spoken to some advocates in Massachusetts before and after the election and I’d love to hear more about the push from each side, as well as the mood of the electorate that would uphold such important policy.

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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