QUESTIONS FOR 8TH ESSEX CANDIDATES: No. 8 — 40B, or not 40B? How to add affordable housing

The Marblehead News posed a series of common questions to the six Democratic candidates for state representative from the 8th Essex District. There is no declared Republican candidate, meaning the winner of the primary Tuesday, Sept. 6 is likely to head to Beacon Hill to serve Marblehead, Swampscott and a portion of Lynn. Over the next two weeks, the Marblehead News will post the candidates’ responses to our questions, side by side, alternating the order as we go.

Previous questions:

Q1. Tell us about yourself.

Q2. What life event most profoundly affected your political views, and how did it shape them?

Q3. What are your three top priorities for the 8th Essex District?

Q4. During the Marblehead League of Women Voters’ 8th Essex District forum, candidates agreed nearly on all the issues. How would you distinguish yourself from the others? 

Q5. 2022 has been a horrific year for gun violence. While Massachusetts has the strongest gun-control legislation in the country, what, if any, actions can be taken to further address gun violence in Massachusetts?

Q6. Marblehead has more than 14 miles of coastline, making it especially vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels. How will you work with town and state leaders on sustainability and climate change issues, as well as plans to mitigate impacts in Marblehead?

Q7. With respect to the Dobbs abortion decision, some are saying the court’s rationale also imperils other matters of personal privacy, including the right of same-sex couples to marry and the right to contraception. What should the Legislature be doing now to prepare for the possibility that these rights, too, could be abrogated? 

Today’s question:

Q8. Marblehead falls far short of the state mandate of having 10 percent of its housing be classified as affordable. Everyone seems to support the concept of creating more affordable housing in the abstract. But Marblehead has made scant use of one of the state’s primary tools to increase affordable housing stock, Chapter 40B. Projects under 40B were floated at the Lead Mills and the site of what is now the Mariner, but their development (or lack thereof) went in another direction. Were these missed opportunities? What, if anything, could the legislature do to make towns like Marblehead more welcoming to 40B projects? Is this even a desirable result?

Diann Slavit Baylis

Diann Slavit-Baylis

Housing availability is a huge challenge throughout this district and throughout the state, with the median home price in greater Boston recently reaching a record $900,000. The dream of home ownership is getting farther and farther away for too many families. The fundamental problem is one of supply and demand – and the demand isn’t going to go down, so we need to focus on the supply.

I believe that every community, including Marblehead, needs to do its part. Chapter 40B is an important tool to encourage development of multi-family housing, but given the scarcity of developable land in Marblehead, we may not see a lot of proposed 40B projects.

One approach outside of 40B that holds potential is expanded zoning for in-law apartments, as this can allow our seniors to stay in their homes while increasing the overall housing stock.

I’m a strong supporter of incentivizing development of housing near public transit – housing is expensive enough without also needing a car to get anywhere, but this will only work if our public transit system works – case in point being the imminent closure of the train station in Lynn. 

Marblehead will have some new obligations to meet for zoning of multi-family housing under the MBTA Communities Act, and I’ll look forward to working with local officials to help meet that challenge.

I also want to ensure support for our local housing authorities, as they play an important role in connecting people with housing support.

Jenny Armini

Jenny Armini

“Where there is a will, there’s a way,” goes the old saw. And I witnessed a significant amount of will on the part of Marblehead citizens at the affordable housing summit the town held this past February. 

A community as densely populated as ours faces unique challenges in finding locations for housing, while balancing the need for open space. The Mariner property was certainly a missed opportunity, but the Lead Mills was not. Its 4.5 acres of open meadow enhances the quality of life of our community. We have another opportunity with the Coffin School development, which I believe should have an affordable component. 

While zoning is a local issue, the state has tools to simplify the process. Yes, 40B is one, but there is also 40R, which is being used to help transform the General Glover property near Vinnin Square. That will include affordable housing units. And the state’s new focus on transit-oriented incentivizes communities like ours to consider multi-family versus single-family developments. 

From a funding perspective, the Legislature should increase the current deeds excise tax to increase the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Housing Preservation and Stabilization Fund (ours are currently among the lowest in the country). Both provide low-income and homeless families with rental and home-ownership assistance.

And the Legislature should review the Senior Circuit Breaker every session to make sure it is keeping up with housing costs and inflation. The circuit breaker provides relief to our seniors struggling to meet their rents or property taxes.

Tristan Smith

Tristan Smith

To be frank, I think the primary reason that towns like Marblehead are not welcoming to 40B projects is that they do not want to be. 40B is a tool that developers use against towns like Marblehead and Swampscott to force more housing, and a vital one, but we can also incentivize towns like these to actually support these projects by increasing the funding given through chapters 40R and 40S.

In Swampscott and Marblehead, we’ve seen that towns will support projects under these chapters through the project at the former Glover restaurant in Vinnin Square. Whereas a 40B project goes wherever the developer chooses and relays service costs to the town, these smart growth districts provide affordable housing in good locations — near buses, train stops, supermarkets, and downtowns — while taking some of the burden off the municipality. 

The state can also take direct action on housing by improving and increasing our public housing stock. In talking to tenants and workers at Swampscott’s public housing, I’ve learned how public housing can be a lifesaver for low-income families and seniors without large retirement savings, to name a few. But I also know how brutally underfunded these facilities can be, and how long the wait list is. If we fund the repair and renovation of these facilities, then make a major push to produce new public housing, we can take a major step towards housing affordability without needing a developer to use 40B. 

Terri Tauro

Terri Tauro

Our property values continue to skyrocket, and even “affordable housing” is not affordable for many. High property values are a “Catch-22.” We want to be able to sell our houses at a profit and use our assets to borrow for college tuition and home improvements, but it does not bode well for the people just starting out.

That being said, the suburbs have always been a hard sell for multifamily dwellings and developments, but there are lots of options for the style of the units to keep with the ambiance of suburbia and still add to the inventory of affordable housing.

The state needs to enforce the 10 percent regulations for towns like Marblehead to force the issue so the local leaders come to the table and negotiate a situation that will work for the residents.

I will advocate for more public senior housing in Marblehead, Swampscott and Lynn. The seniors are being displaced as the state moves away from maintaining the public senior housing. Our seniors should be able to stay in the town they lived, worked and raised their families in. They should not have to go to a strange town or city and start over, and they should not have to pay 30 percent of their income in rent. We owe them much more.

Doug Thompson

Doug Thompson

I believe we should take more proactive steps to address the lack of affordable housing. 40B should be a last resort.

As I mentioned [earlier], we should ensure our zoning is updated to encourage more accessory dwelling units (in-law units). We should update our zoning such that these units are for long-term residents and not for short-term rentals to maintain the character of our communities.

This approach could have the effect of distributing affordable housing more evenly with little to no disruption to existing homeowners.  It would allow current owners to stay in their homes longer while providing more affordable housing options.

We should also explore integrated commercial, transit and housing development where appropriate. We should also consider affordable housing development at former schools like the Coffin School in Marblehead or the Hadley School in Swampscott.

Polly Titcomb

Polly Titcomb

I do believe that the projects that were proposed at Lead Mills and the current Mariner were a missed opportunity and that it is a desirable result for the legislature to make all municipalities, including Marblehead, more welcome to 40B projects.

The legislature recently passed an economic development bill including the MBTA Community Zoning Guidelines, which requires any municipality with access to public transit–as Marblehead does with the bus–to create at least one zoning district within a half-mile of public transit that allows a developer by-right to develop multi-family housing.

However, I do not think that this goes far enough to require that such multi-family housing is affordable or actually developed at all.

I believe that Massachusetts should follow the precedent set by California and allow municipalities to require developers to develop a percentage of housing to be affordable, with a focus on building affordable housing versus funding an affordable housing trust.

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