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Question 2: Repeal Affordable Housing Law?

By Ron Sanders, WBZ-TV
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Housing

BROOKLINE (CBS) – Critics of the state’s 40-year-old affordable housing law known as Chapter 40B want to completely scrap it with Question 2 on the November 2 ballot.

But a coalition of Question 2 opponents, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy, say it would be dangerous to repeal the law.

Read: Question 2 Petition

“This has enabled us to stay in the community we love and we work in,” says June Lawlor who, with her husband Joe, lives at St. Aidan’s in Brookline.

Built around the church in which JFK was baptized, it has 59 units of mixed income housing including 20 affordable ones such as the Lawlor’s.  It’s considered one of Chapter 40B’s success stories.

“We wouldn’t be in this house today without it,” says June.

“‘Be impossible, you know. Like my wife said, we’d probably have to live out-of-town somewhere and commute,” adds Joe Lawlor.

Turtle Crossing in Braintree is another development built under 40B which allows developers who make at least 20-percent of their units affordable to bypass local zoning rules in cities and towns that have not met affordable housing goals.

The law caps profits developers can make and gives excess profits to municipalities.

“Quite frankly, monitoring these types of projects can be very cumbersome and very difficult for municipalities,” explains Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan.

He says he’s not against 40B but says in the case of Turtle Crossing, the developer did not meet certain commitments.

So the town worked with the state Inspector General and recouped $1.8 million.

The I.G. looked at 10 such projects and found: “The current Chapter 40B cost certification oversight process is ineffective in rigorously certifying developers’ costs and profits… municipalities are not receiving their fair share.”

Brookline officials say without 40B, St. Aidan’s would not have happened.

They explain they were able to have a conversation between neighbors, developers, preservationists and others who wanted to protect the historic church and a 150-year-old copper beech tree on the property.

“And it’s absolutely fantastic,” says Betty Dewitt, who chairs the Board of Selectmen.

“All of it fits together.  We’ve saved open space.  We’ve saved the copper beech.  We’ve saved the church and we’ve created a wonderful mixed income housing project.”

“With 40B, there’s room for improvement. The problem with the proposal that’s out there now is it’s all or nothing,” says Robert Allen, former chairman of Brookline Selectmen, who was in office as the St. Aidan’s development unfolded.

A large, well-financed group supporting the existing affordable housing law says repealing it would be a disaster for working families, especially in this economy.

The group behind Question 2 argues the law allows developers to shield profits and helps them more than cities and towns and working families.

“For us, it was just perfect,” concludes June Lawlor.

All four candidates for governor oppose repealing the law with question 2; but even supporters of the law agree the legislature needs to make improvements.

Housing officials say since it became law, Chapter 40B has created 29,000 affordable homes in Massachusetts.

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