MILLIS – Local officials from several towns led a discussion Thursday on the deficiencies and possible reform of affordable housing rules.
Selectmen from Medway, Ashland, Hopkinton, Holliston, Medfield and Millis – convened in Millis to discuss a number of issues of regional importance, such as stormwater management, retail marijuana regulation and the voting process at town meetings. The towns have met several times over the past year.
Medway Town Administrator Michael Boynton noted that the “40B” affordable housing legislation – which allows developers to circumvent certain local zoning bylaws if their project has an affordable housing component and the town falls below a 10 percent affordable housing threshold – first went into effect in 1969.
“It’s not going anywhere,” he said, noting that a ballot initiative to repeal the rule in 2010 had failed. He added that many towns, when they reach the 10 percent threshold, lose interest in reform.
Boynton said the town had experienced – in the last 18 months – both friendly and unfriendly 40B developments.
Medway Selectman Glenn Trindade said the legislation, as currently written, does not solve the affordable housing problem in the most efficient way. He said apartments are most in demand, but developers want to build houses. With apartments, he noted, the residents’ incomes are reviewed after a period of time to ensure they still quality; the same does not occur with houses or condos.
“What we’ve got with this system is someone hits the lottery (and is awarded an affordable house or condo), and you help one person,” he said.
Fellow Selectman Dennis Crowley said he was concerned about what happened to affordable housing units. He said the town had seen instances in which condo owners had bought their units, refinanced at the market value of the condo, pocketed the difference and left. He also cited incidents in which people owned the units, but moved out and rented them to other people.
“Nobody’s monitoring these units,” he said.
Boynton suggested several reforms to the law. One change would allow towns to prioritize senior housing, while another would tie developments to a municipality’s master plan.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, noted the difficulty of changing the legislation. He said he was pursuing reforms that would allow a slightly higher-priced unit to count as a percentage of an affordable housing unity. He pointed at his hometown of Norfolk as an example of where such housing is needed.
“We’re losing teachers, firefighters and police officers – they can’t afford to live in town,” he said. “We have (affordable housing) at $130,000, and the next house up is $500,000.”
Mike Gleason can be reached at 508-634-7546 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For news throughout the day, follow him on Twitter @MGleason_MDN.