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POAH Chief of Staff on the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Law, Ch. 40B

December 19, 2017

Andrew Spofford testified in support of Chapter 40B at the Massachusetts State House on December 19. Below is the text of his testimony.

Chairman Boncore, Chairman Honan, Members of the Joint Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of the affordable housing law, Chapter 40B.

My name is Andrew Spofford.  I am Chief of Staff at Preservation of Affordable Housing, or POAH. We are a national housing nonprofit, based in Boston. POAH builds, preserves, and operates affordable housing for families and seniors.

Since 2001, POAH has renovated or built more than 9,000 apartments nationwide. Almost 3,000 of those are in 19 towns across Massachusetts.

I’m here today to testify to the critical role 40B plays in our effort to provide affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households in Massachusetts, and to urge the Committee to continue to protect the law.

Massachusetts has a severe shortage of affordable housing for households under 80% of median income, the group supported by 40B. According to Zillow, the state’s median rent for a two-bedroom unit is nearly $2,400 – which is affordable only to households earning well above the state’s median income ($75,300).

The result is that we have hundreds of thousands fewer affordable units than the number of families and seniors who need them. POAH alone has more than 3,000 households on our waitlists in Massachusetts – that’s more than one household for every unit we have. Assuming 15% turnover, that’s a seven-year wait.

So people pay more than they can afford for shelter – about 80% of households under 50% of AMI, and three quarters of households from 50-80% of AMI, pay more than they can afford – and sacrifice on food, school, medication, and other needs.  Nearly half of renters from 50-80% of AMI pay more than they can afford for their housing.

People pay more than they can afford on shelter... and sacrifice on food, school, medication and other needs.

The affordable housing shortage is hurting us economically as well.  The Unlocking the Commonwealth report found that the Boston metro’s housing shortage was a significant competitive disadvantage, driving outmigration to other “innovation economies” like Seattle, Portland, Denver, and Austin.

40B is probably the single most important part of the state’s infrastructure for producing housing to respond to this need, especially outside the major cities. As you’ve heard, the law is responsible for the creation of 60,000 housing units across the state, including 80% of all new housing outside the cities.

Our experience has been that 40B, combined with the system for Housing Production Plans, and the 40R and 40T incentives, are used effectively by towns that are planning proactively to permit appropriate housing developments at a manageable pace.

On Cape Cod, where the housing crisis is particularly severe, POAH is working with a number of towns to add affordable rental housing using the “friendly 40B” process. We’re in construction now on the third phase of a “friendly 40B” development at Canal Bluffs in Bourne, where we worked closely with the town to develop the kind of affordable housing they wanted for their community. We’re working with the town of Brewster to do a similar thing there on town-owned land, using the 40B comprehensive permit process.

In the last few years we’ve also acquired and renovated a number of communities that were originally permitted through 40B, decades ago.  In each case the town has provided financial support for our preservation efforts, because these properties are important assets in their communities and they don’t want to lose them.

In sum, this is an essential tool that the state needs in order to respond to a desperate need, and we hope you will continue to protect it.