Andrew’s Testimony Given in Support of H.1111

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My name is Andrew DeFranza and I live on the North Shore where I also work with Harborlight Community Partners ”a regional affordable housing developer and property manager. Senators Lovely, Tarr, and McGee cover our general footprint. We are concerned about the housing needs of our region and the State at large. There is not enough housing across the income spectrum.untitled

According to the MAPC report, we know we need to create 17,000 housing units a year for over two decades to secure the kind of housing necessary to accommodate Massachusetts workers, retirees, and others. Housing developers will never be able to approach that number without policy changes that can support this goal. With this context in mind I would like to speak in favor of H.1111  by touching on three elements in the bill.

 Zoning

The current zoning system is designed to exclude and is effective in that effort. Not long ago we used to exclude or segregate people by income and/or race with tools like redlining, roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure. These tools became publicly unacceptable so we have shifted now to others. Currently zoning and limiting public infrastructure serve these same functions, isolating and excluding portions of the population. The result is that many communities wield zoning laws with the intent to support only single family housing on large lots, blocking multi-family housing, especially housing that may accommodate children. I spend many hours in zoning and planning board meetings and I would be embarrassed to repeat what some people say about human children in their efforts to discourage family housing. Most land in the State (over 75%) cannot be used for multi-family housing and many communities have built nothing but single family housing for a very long time.

The result is predictable. Communities with resources use vast amounts of land cobbled together in 2 acre lots to house very few people effectively keeping out certain other groups of people.

Communities without resources are then often in the opposite situation with a much higher ratio of multi-family housing. This self-imposed zoning then results in fewer multi-family units being created while at the same time raising land cost in these communities which exacerbates economic segregation. In the face of our 17,000 unit need, these practices cannot be continued. As Mass Housing Partnership has noted, this local zoning challenge is the primary cause  of our housing predicament. Thankfully, since this is a self-imposed this structure, we have the power to change it ¦and we should. This bill would allow this urgent change to take place.

Small Scale Production

In the region where Harborlight Community partners works and in many others there are very small communities with limited infrastructure and strictly single-family houses. And yet, some of these same communities have substantial CPA accounts. In our work, we have encountered a number of communities with locally controlled, fallow, and housing-restricted capital. Many of these communities have a political constituency willing to support housing. However, they have a high degree of difficulty working on a project that is of any large or moderate size. If we could offer a path for these communities to engage in smaller, contextual projects (such as 20 units or less), it would allow us to put this fallow capital to use in addressing our 17,000 unit need. It would also create access to different income groups in these communities.

40S

When we are in meetings working to convince communities to support affordable housing initiatives, we often get asked two questions which reveal the ways in which communities oppose multi-family housing: 1) Do you pay taxes? and 2) Will there be kids? As a matter of policy and ethics I can say yes to the former. We do pay taxes. Yet the latter question concerning children seems to be the primary driver of opposition to multi-family, multi-bedroom housing. The argument is that municipalities feel pressured regarding their school budgets and any addition children will cost the community more money. Even when the logic can be proved false, it is remarkably politically effective.

40S provides a tool that can create an answer to this kind of opposition. It can help solve the problem. It can also expose more nefarious motives should a long list of other reasons surface after education costs have been addressed.

There are two technical items to highlight here:

  • If the state does decide to expand 40S outside of 40R boundaries, it would be helpful to have the affordability requirement travel with the 40S use.
  • If a City or Town were given a window of time so that they could rely on 40S, this would help housing organizations navigate local political concerns. Right now there is no guarantee past the year at hand. This puts City or Town politicians at risk because, while they take what they perceive to be a long term risk on education costs, they could lose access to the 40S revenue stream they may have used to sell the concept to their constituents. A fixed minimum 40S window would give local officials political space to manage their local challenges in the event they want to support a project but feel they cannot without a commitment of 40S from the State on an ongoing basis.

Thank you for letting us attend and speak.

Andrew DeFranza, Executive Director

978-922-1305 x 207

adefranza@harborlightcp.org