|by Rachel Bratt|
Senior Research Fellow
In 1969, the Massachusetts legislature enacted the Comprehensive Permit Act, which mandates that 10 percent of each localities’ year-round housing stock be affordable to residents earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median income. While controversial in Massachusetts, across the country Chapter 40B is viewed as one of the premier state-level responses to addressing the problem known as “exclusionary zoning” – local zoning that, whether by intent or design, has an exclusionary impact, by severely limiting or excluding zoning for multifamily housing and/or the ability to build homes on small lots.
Chapter 40B has stood the test of time and has stimulated the construction or rehabilitation of over 60,000 affordable units, more than two-thirds of them rental housing. In 2010, Massachusetts voters reconfirmed their support for the statute. And for good reason; the law works.
Although progress has been slow, each decade, we observe more and more municipalities attaining the 10 percent goal and many others making significant progress. In 1972, shortly after Chapter 40B was enacted, only four municipalities had attained the 10 percent goal and only two more were close. By 1983, there was a six-fold increase in municipalities with at least 10 percent of their housing qualifying as affordable. Flash forward 40 years to the present, and 48 municipalities have now reached the 10 percent goal and another 39 are close – at 8 percent or better. This means that one-quarter of Massachusetts cities and towns are at or near the state-mandated 10 percent affordable housing goal. And, in terms of municipalities that are halfway or better toward meeting the 10 percent goal, one-half of the state’s 351 cities and towns have crossed that threshold. Contrast this with 1972, 1983, 1993 and 2001, when the 50 percent or better figures were 5 percent, 26 percent, 30 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations deserve credit for the good news about Chapter 40B. With the end of Governor Deval Patrick’s term, and with him, his appointees at the Department of Housing and Community Development, it is timely to offer a special word of thanks for the leadership and guidance provided by former Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein. Since Gornstein assumed the position just three years ago, the state supported affordable housing through increased funding for both new development and preservation of existing affordable housing, expansion of state rental assistance, revitalization of state public housing, and the development of supportive housing for our most vulnerable populations.
Despite the continuing progress being made through Chapter 40B, there is still lots to be done to promote the state’s affordable housing agenda. In wishing Governor Charlie Baker well, I urge him, along with his excellent new Housing Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay, to continue to focus on a range of serious issues: the need for long-term housing for the homeless population that simply needs a decent, affordable place to live; continued improvements to the state public housing stock; and working with municipalities and community-based organizations to promote comprehensive neighborhood revitalization.
Although residents of Massachusetts should be rightfully proud of our more than 30-year old “right to shelter” statute, we are far from achieving the U.S. housing goal first articulated in 1949, which is to provide “a decent home and suitable living environment” for all. To make further inroads on the enormously sad and embarrassing reality of housing problems facing lower income people, many veterans, elderly, and even middle income households, as well as people with various disabilities, there needs to be a serious dialogue about the importance of housing to the stability and well-being of families and to the health of the economy. While we have the capacity to produce great housing by nonprofit, for-profit, and public entities, still lacking is a national consensus and political will to make decent, affordable housing the cornerstone of a new domestic agenda.
This post originally appeared as an op-ed in Banker & Tradesman, and is reprinted with their permission.