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Danvers wants trailers counted as housing

DANVERS - Just because Christine Donoghue’s living room has a Norfolk Island fern instead of a full-sized Christmas tree doesn’t make it any less of a home in her eyes.

“It’s a home - doesn’t it look like a home to you,’’ the Dunkin’ Donuts employee said while stroking her cat and watching a rerun of “Seinfeld’’ in her home at Shady Oaks Trailer Park on Route 1. “It has a cat, we’re doing Christmas presents, and we got Christmas lights.

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“It’s a home. It’s our home. It’s been here for quite a while; I don’t think it’s going anywhere. This mobile home park has been here forever.’’

The state Department of Housing and Community Development, however, doesn’t necessarily see it that way - at least when it comes to affordable housing. Under the state law known as Chapter 40B, residential developers can bypass local zoning if less than 10 percent of the community’s overall housing is affordable as defined by the statute, and the developer meets other requirements.

And mobile homes don’t meet the law’s definition of affordable housing.

While housing data generated from the federal 2010 Census recently put Danvers 1 percentage point shy of that 10 percent affordable housing threshold, Danvers selectmen Gardner S. Trask III and Daniel C. Bennett argue that the town would well exceed 10 percent if mobile homes were counted.

Trask and Bennett say failing to reach the threshold means developers could construct buildings in Danvers that are too “expansive’’ compared with their neighboring structures.

‘They are permanent structures. . . . They don’t come and go with the seasons.’

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And on Tuesday night, their colleagues on the Board of Selectmen agreed unanimously to propose a home-rule petition this spring that would ask the state to count the town’s mobile homes as affordable housing.

If passed at the Town Meeting on the third Monday in May, the home-rule petition would be sent to the Legislature for consideration.

“The mobile homes are mobile in name only,’’ Trask said at last week’s meeting, noting that there are 239 mobile homes in four trailer parks in Danvers. “They are permanent structures. They are not recreational vehicles. They don’t come and go with the seasons. Once people live there, they stay there. They have hard hookups to the sewer and water and electric. They have hard hookups to oil or propane. These are not mobile homes in the sense of the word that they can be moved or are moved after the fact.’’

Mobile homes are difficult for the state to consider as long-term affordable housing units because they usually reside on leased land as opposed to property deeded to home owners.

But Department of Housing and Community Development spokeswoman Mary-Leah Assad said the mobile homes would also have to meet other requirements to be considered affordable housing.

“Although there is not any blanket prohibition on inclusion of mobile homes in the subsidized housing inventory, generally, mobile homes do not meet eligibility requirements for inclusion,’’ Assad said in a statement. The department “has been and is willing to discuss the inclusion of mobile homes in the [subsidized housing inventory] provided that such homes meet standards such as income eligibility, housing price, fair housing marketing considerations, and enforceability of affordability restrictions.’’

But Trask called the Chapter 40B law a “blunt instrument’’ to try get cities and towns to take on more affordable housing.

“Enacted about 20 years ago, [40B] compels towns to get to that 10 percent threshold, otherwise they lose zoning control and anybody who comes in under the guise of 40B can circumvent anything but wetland restrictions and place very monstrous developments in places that may not be suitable,’’ Trask said. “Danvers has embraced the [Housing and Community Development] philosophy of providing affordable housing opportunities. We’ve been above 10 percent for many years.’’

Last May, Salisbury passed a home-rule petition to the state Legislature to amend the definition of low- or moderate-income housing to include mobile homes in Salisbury that have been in the same location for at least 20 years. The resulting bill has been sitting in the Joint Committee on Housing since July, according to Bennett.

Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington said he believes his town is the first in the state to file such legislation and that other communities, such as Wareham, are interested in doing so as well.

“I think if more communities in the same boat as Salisbury take a similar tack it would be difficult, hopefully, for the Legislature to ignore us,’’ he said.

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.
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