Affordable Housing Is Both A Civil Rights And Economic Development Issue

By Brookline TAB

Affordable housing is both a civil rights and economic development issue.

Brookline is not an island unto itself. Brookline’s prosperity and property values depend on the overall well-being of Massachusetts.

A while ago, Massachusetts was losing its industries as jobs moved south, mills emptied and became abandoned property. When the mills were abandoned, this dominoed through other classes of property and the whole Massachusetts economy.

Massachusetts and Brookline, in order to thrive, must grow, not shrink. A corollary is that Brookline can’t continue to thrive by doing the same as it has done. The market for buggy whips has pretty much disappeared and so would Massachusetts if it clung to buggy whip production. Prosperity requires change, some call it creative destruction, not always a comforting process.

Prosperity produces jobs for qualified, trained, available labor. In order to hire these employees, there must be affordable housing and functioning transportation.

When it comes to transportation and housing, the free market, without public policy support, generally does not function adequately. To make Massachusetts work as an engine of prosperity for everyone, requires certain public policy and governmental interventions.

The unfettered housing industry seems to be able to provide housing at the high end, but has not been as robust at the lower end of the market.

Neither Massachusetts nor Brookline would be able to flourish unless there is diversity and inclusion in housing. The economy cannot flourish based only on availability of employees commanding six-figure and greater salaries. Such employees are not going to do a vast array of jobs, without which, our economy would fail.

Hence the need for affordable housing to accommodate affordable employees who can afford to get to their jobs.

According to the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, since the early 1970s, Chapter 40B has been used to produce over 60,000 units in almost 1,200 developments including over 42,000 rental units.

Between 2002-2006, approximately 34 percent of all housing production in greater Boston (excluding the city of Boston) was directly attributable to Chapter 40B, including 80 percent of rental housing production.

Between 1997 and 2010, 78 percent of all new affordable housing units in rural and suburban communities was the direct result of Chapter 40B. In eastern Massachusetts rural and suburban communities, it was 80 percent.

It is worth noting, therefore, that Chapter 40B from an overall perspective has accomplished a great deal of affordable and market rate housing production.

How much worse off would the affordable housing market and the economic prospects in Brookline be if it weren’t for Chapter 40B?

It seems that everyone in Brookline and Massachusetts is indirectly the beneficiary of Chapter 40B’s contribution to economic health growth and stability, greater opportunity, and improved living standards.

Some are asking: In order to avoid more infringements on Brookline’s zoning rules, wouldn’t be easier for Brookline to just build 100-200, or however many units of 100 percent subsidized projects Brookline would need, to reach the Chapter 40B required 10 percent safe harbor?

But where would Brookline get the money?

Chapter 40B, in effect, privatizes the production of affordable housing. The developer accepts a ceiling on allowed profit and benefits from favorable financing terms. Their finances are audited by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Community Development. A portion of the units are affordable because the market rate units cross subsidize the affordable ones.

To increase the number of units on a valuable parcel, making the project’s financial pro forma work, zoning restrictions in many respects are waived. This permits the developer to build to the lot line, go higher and denser, etc. This is the trade-off. The Chapter 40B projects in Brookline, according to some, may infringe on the surrounding neighborhood. But generally, to be fair minded from a civil rights perspective, Chapter 40B developments actually are not grievously compromising to Brookline neighborhoods, pose few reasons for complaint, and when all is said and done tend to blend in.

Does anyone know about a better, realistic alternative?

This article provided by NewsEdge.