The following letter to the editor was submitted by Paul Cully. We welcome all letters to the editor, published letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestfordCAT’s Board or membership. To submit your own letter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
I am writing in response to the letter from Mr. Donlon published in the April 23rd Westford Eagle.
Indeed a discussion regarding support for affordable housing is well worth having! Here are answers to the questions Mr. Donlon poses as well as some facts and references to substantiating sources.
The state’s affordable housing law goes back over 50 years, and was passed to encourage housing for low income workers dispersed throughout Greater Boston and its suburbs – to discourage the concentration of low income housing in small geographical areas. This initiative had support from urban, suburban, and rural legislators alike – a good example of broad support.
Yes, people do travel great distances to visit relatives and to work, but wouldn’t they prefer to live closer to their relatives, friends, and workplaces? No advocate justifies affordable housing as an “entitlement”; instead it is espoused as a better way to live and work.
The “need” for affordable housing is substantiated in many Westford specific documents, two of which are available to everyone via the town’s website: Westford’s Housing Production Plan (1) and Westford’s Master Plan (2), both of which required a great deal of time and energy to produce, were reviewed in public meetings, and were approved by all of Westford’s appropriate boards and committees. Additionally, regional facts and data can be obtained by contacting Mass Housing Partnership (“MHP”) (3), North Middlesex Council on Government (“NMCOG”) (4), U. S. Government Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) (5), and Citizens Housing and Planning Association (“CHAPA”) (6) as well as a host of other housing advocate organizations which can be found by a search of the web (7). Another source is the Westford Housing Authority which can perhaps supply the size of the waiting list it has for affordable housing, even though it would only know of those who have contacted them about affordable housing in Westford – the actual number of interested and qualified aspirants for affordable housing can only be estimated (8).
That changes to the town’s zoning bylaws, attitude, and endorsement of affordable housing “would make Westford an economically healthier community” is a matter of simple arithmetic – increased tax revenue and a decrease in the cost of doing business. For example: If the many vacant buildings along Littleton Road were able to be “multi-use” buildings – office or retail space along with residential space – then the tax revenue for those buildings, once they were occupied, would go up. Having a workforce available in Westford to run businesses, draws businesses, especially startups, to our town. Having the workforce close to their work lowers the workers cost of living by greatly reducing or eliminating the high cost of commuting, which is ultimately reflected in lower payroll costs. And workers enjoy more time for themselves and with their friends and families.
Offspring of Westford residents with a good education and first jobs that pay well, are nevertheless usually unable to live in the town where they grew up. The paucity of affordable housing causes them to begin their adult work-lives elsewhere, which reduces the potential homeowner pool and lowers real estate values, as many are unwilling to move their families once they settle in, and they and their offspring develop roots and relationships (9).
Providing seniors with affordable housing so they can stay in Westford, results in housing units that have minimal impact on the town’s infrastructure, instead of more mansions. For seniors who are able to “age in place”, it means housing units that once housed a family, with children in our school system, do not turn over and don’t impact our school system.
And why shouldn’t we provide affordable housing for those veterans who have given of themselves, to help them re-enter our society – is that asking too much (10)?
It is well documented that many businesses have left the state altogether – moving jobs out of Massachusetts – in part because of the high cost of housing. Boston is the 7th most expensive city in the U. S. in which to live, with a cost of living that is 37.9% higher than the national average and health care costs 26.3% above the national average (11). Affordable housing helps keep and create jobs in Massachusetts.
But for those for whom compassionate and economic reasons are of no consequence, consider the town’s vulnerability to the state’s “40B” law. This is the law that mandates the 10% affordable housing “quota” and has the potential to do great damage to Westford. Developments proposed utilizing this law, bypass local zoning bylaws for the most part, and in the worst case only reduce the town’s “quota” deficit by 10-15% of the development’s total unit count. Since Westford has a deficit of about 170 affordable units, relying on worst-case, undesirable, 40B developments to fulfill that “quota” deficit, would result in 1130 to 1700 new housing units (12). This would be a true “budget buster” for Westford, and the character of the town would be irrevocably altered. Not to mention what it would do to home values.
By creatively and proactively changing our zoning bylaws, we can encourage and create affordable housing that is appropriate for Westford and moves us towards achieving our state mandated “quota” with the least amount of undesirable developments and new housing units.
These are just a few of the many reasons for residents to support affordable housing. Whether residents are moved by compassionate, economic, town character, real estate values, fear of 40Bs, or just plain selfish reasons, herein are a plethora of good reasons for supporting affordable housing.
Growth is inevitable, and Westford will not be immune. There is much we can do to shape and define that growth.
4 Patriot Lane
Westford, MA 01886
(1) Westford’s Housing Production Plan
One of only three housing production plans approved by the state – only two other communities have approved plans.
(2) Westford’s Master Plan
(3) MHP – Mass Housing Partnership
(4) NMCOG – North Middlesex Council of Government
(5) HUD – United State Government of Housing and Urban Development
(6) CHAPA – Citizens Housing and Planning Association
(7) just one partial page of search results of the web for “Mass. Affordable Housing”
(8) Westford Housing Authority
67 Tadmuck Rd, Westford, MA 01886 – (978) 692-6011
(9) Offspring of Westford residents cannot afford Westford
For this I draw on my own experience. The Chief of Police has two twin boys who are becoming Westford policemen. They cannot afford to live in Westford on their salaries. Last November I wound up holding a sign in front of a polling place next to the son of the former residents from whom we purchased our current home. It has taken him nearly 20 years of work and saving to get back to Westford. My own son begins his first full time job this fall, with a starting salary somewhat below the area median salary. He will not be able to afford to live in Westford. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. (See page 104 in the Town of Westford Annual Report for Fiscal 2014 on the town’s website at: http://www.westfordma.gov/
(10) Affordable housing for veterans
Last year the first affordable housing for veterans in Westford was completed and the five housing units were filled by lottery – there were many more applicants than units.
(11) High cost of living in Boston and surrounds
Housing costs are higher in suburbs.
(12) Potential impact of 40B projects
Under the state’s 40B regulations only 20 to 25% of a 40B project needs to have affordable units, and the next ten-year census will count all units towards its calculation of a town’s quota. So for example, a 100 unit 40B home ownership development that has 25% of its units as affordable units, adds 25 units towards fulfilling the quota but eventually increases the total count of units by 100. The net gain towards reducing the deficit of affordable units is only 15 units in this instance. The result is worse if the development has only 20% of its units designated as affordable.