The Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives recently passed a $1.4 billion bond bill authorizing, among other things, $500 million in repairs and improvements to public housing and $305 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. While the dollar amounts of the bill have garnered most of the headlines, the bill also amends the state’s controversial Chapter 40B affordable housing law in order to promote local economic development efforts.
The amendment of Chapter 40B would give communities some measure of control (which has long been absent) over 40B projects proposed in tax increment financing (TIF) zones under G.L. c. 40, §59. TIFs allow a municipality to provide flexible, targeted tax incentives to promote development and job creation. As things currently stand, a 40B project can be located in any business, industrial or residential zone. In addition, Chapter 40B generally permits a developer to avoid most local zoning bylaws if the city or town is under the 10% affordable housing threshold as determined by the Department of Housing and Community Development. This often leads to patchwork siting of affordable housing projects in a community. The amendment to Chapter 40B, championed by State Rep. John Rogers (D-Norwood), would provide a small exception to Chapter 40B by ensuring that Chapter 40B does not trump TIF agreements under Chapter 40. According to Rogers, “the obligations of Chapter 40B should not be allowed to supercede the application of Chapter 40. My amendment reconciles these two laws and empowers communities to accommodate affordable housing while also promoting economic growth.”
Rogers’ amendment itself is not without controversy. Although the amendment applies statewide, critics have charged that the amendment was designed solely to block the 296-unit Upland Woods 40B project in Norwood. Affordable housing advocates have also attacked the amendment for undermining Chapter 40B.
The bill will next go to conference committee to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions. Stay tuned to On Solid Ground for further news and updates on this developing story.