South

THE ARGUMENT

Should mobile homes be counted as part of a municipality’s affordable-housing stock?

YES

David F. DeCoste

State representative, Norwell Republican

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David F. DeCoste.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Act, usually referred to as “Chapter 40B” because of its designation in the Massachusetts General Laws, was originally known as the “Anti-Snob Zoning Act.” The law, adopted in 1969, is meant to encourage production of affordable homes by allowing developers to bypass municipal zoning bylaws in communities whose housing stock is below 10 percent affordable. Developers in exchange commit to set aside at least 25 percent of a project’s units as affordable. The law allows a state panel to reverse a local zoning board’s denial of a 40B proposal. This has resulted in developments being constructed without consideration of the impact on schools, roads, water, and other municipal infrastructure.

In the last several years, legislation has been filed to have 40B regulations modified to allow mobile homes to count toward the 10 percent affordable home stock requirement in specific towns or in some cases throughout the Commonwealth. To date, all of this legislation has failed to be acted on by lawmakers. In 2016, the Legislature directed the state Department of Revenue to conduct a study of mobile home communities to measure the percentage of resident households that would qualify for low- or moderate-income housing under 40B.

The report, issued last April, found that 78 percent of mobile home residents with identified tax returns would qualify for low- or moderate-income housing based on income. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the very affordable nature of these communities. Yet current law stipulates that cities and towns cannot count a single one of these units against their affordable-housing inventories.

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A better policy for the state is to give municipalities an incentive to approve mobile home communities. Manufactured housing represents an excellent value on a square-footage basis for housing. We should recognize that fact and give communities credit for all or a significant percentage of existing manufactured housing units. This would result in a more accurate count of ‘affordable’ units, but it would also spur the addition of more of this type of housing in our state.

NO

Philip R. Giffee

Executive director, Neighborhood Of Affordable Housing, a nonprofit that has built or renovated homes in eight communities, including Middleborough

Handout
Philip R. Giffee.
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Home prices in Massachusetts are soaring, far beyond the reach of most low- and moderate-income families. But de facto classifying mobile homes as “low income” does nothing to ease the housing shortage, nor assure that low- and moderate-income families reside in adequate housing in all our communities.

Some municipalities, in order to try to meet, or skirt, the requirements under the Chapter 40B affordable-housing statute, want mobile home parks to be classified as permanently-restricted housing for persons or families meeting income requirements. However, unlike other housing, I am not aware of any well-monitored restrictions or oversight placed on mobile homes such as those pertaining to housing quality, income limits, or permanence of a lease. For these reasons, the petition to allow mobile parks as “affordable” is off the mark.

Additionally the state does not monitor the sale or leasing of mobile homes as they must for affordable units in Chapter 40B properties. In my agency’s Chapter 40B projects, the state hires a firm to assure income and housing quality standards are met, guaranteeing the public that we are adhering to federal tax credit laws. If we don’t comply, there are serious tax, oversight, and reputational consequences. To be permitted, these projects must also meet other specifications, including those pertaining to proximity to schools; access to commerce, supermarkets, and transportation; housing quality, and energy efficiency.

It’s important to note, Chapter 40B was revised a dozen years ago to encourage development in the suburbs of multifamily rental housing, which is badly needed for workforces of many income levels in our housing-poor state. Following 40B requirements, 25 percent of the units must be set aside for low- and moderate-income families. This is codified in permits granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Though mobile home parks are governed by associations, each is different, rules are individually and unevenly enforced, and the parks are not bound by state affordability standards -- which is really the point of it all!

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Changing this much-needed statute to pointlessly check off mobile homes as “affordable” does nothing to encourage housing production, nor does it assure quality housing for low- or moderate-income individuals or families.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.