Question 2 threatens good law

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Wednesday October 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD

On Nov. 2, voters across the commonwealth will weigh in on Question 2, which seeks to repeal Massachusetts primary affordable housing law. We urge a "NO" vote. The law is needed in Berkshire County and in small towns across the commonwealth.

Without the affordable housing law, small towns will no longer have the zoning tools necessary to create affordable rental housing for their lower income seniors and other vulnerable members in their community. We will also need affordable housing to keep young working families in the Berkshires to build and strengthen our economy, especially in future years.

In Berkshire County, Census estimates show that the overall population declined by 4.2 percent over the past decade. Yet the one segment of the population still growing rapidly is seniors. This is particularly true in our small rural towns. Limited zoning options often create significant barriers for small towns working to create affordable housing opportunities. Most small towns have large lot zoning requiring an acre or more per home, which makes it unaffordable and even impossible to build cost-efficient "village-style'' clusters of senior rental housing on smaller parcels of land. The affordable housing law provides a useful and much needed permitting tool for these small towns.

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Over the past decade, 80 percent of all the affordable housing built in smaller towns outside the largest cities in Massachusetts was made possible by the affordable housing law. Simply put, if the "Yes" vote wins and the law is repealed, a lot less affordable housing will be built in a lot fewer places. Cities will face pressure to do more. In addition to a loss of broader regional housing opportunities, a "Yes" on Question 2 will have a large negative impact on the economy and job creation at a time when our recovery is fragile and unemployment is high.

A recent UMass Donahue Institute study documented that developments permitted under the affordable housing law have produced $9.5 billion in economic activity and 47,700 jobs in Massachusetts. The same study found that 21,000 homes planned for permitting under the affordable housing law in the years ahead will produce 54,000 jobs and $10.5 billion in economic activity. If the law is repealed, 12,000 homes already in the development pipeline will not get built.

Those are homes and jobs we need to build a prosperous economy. Despite the downturn, we remain a high cost state. Mass Inc. reported this year that Massachusetts has only recently stemmed a decade-long out-migration of young people aged 20-30. This is the workforce on which our future economic prosperity depends. Affordable housing is one of the keys to retaining younger workers. And we need it for our growing senior population too.

That is why all four candidates for governor -- Deval Patrick, Charles Baker, Timothy Cahill, and Jill Stein -- all recommend a "No" vote on Question 2. We do too. A "NO" vote keeps the affordable housing law in place and allow our rural and suburban towns to work together with our cities to create a county-wide approach to affordable housing in the Berkshires for our seniors and working families. Vote "NO" on 2.

Brad Gordon is executive director/staff attorney of the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority. Elton Ogden is the president of Berkshire Housing Development Corporation. For more information on the Vote NO on 2 Campaign, visit
www.protectaffordablehousing.org.


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