40B Income Guidelines

At the February 10, 2009 Board of Selectman meeting, a board member suggested that municipal and school department employees would not qualify for 40b housing. According to 760 CMR 56.02,

Income Eligible Household – [emphasis added] means a household of one or more persons whose maximum income does not exceed 80% of the area median income, adjusted for household size, or as otherwise established by the Department in guidelines.  For homeownership programs, the Subsidizing Agency may establish asset limitations for Income Eligible Households by statute, regulations, or guideline.  In the absence of such provisions, Income Eligible Households shall be subject to asset and/or other financial limitations as defined by the Department in guidelines. (source: MA Housing and Development web site.)

According to a letter to the editor published in both The Sun Chronicle and The Country Gazette by Wrentham Resident Marjorie Immonen,  the area’s median income is $82.400.  The Wrentham Personnel Bylaws list salary ranges on p. 33ff and have much to say on this issue.  A great many of our staff  fall below the 80% threshold.

Now that Wrentham Zoning By-Law 13.3 has been stricken from the books we do not have to accept a 40b project of any sort.  The town is free to develop affordable housing with the full protection of the local permitting process.13.3 previously stipulated 40b as the ONLY way to create affordable housing.

We should form an affordable housing athority and take care of our own instead of spending our money on 40b experts and pursuing policies with a low likelihood of success.

Annual Town Meeting Warrant Open

The BoS voted to open the warrant for our Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, February 17, 2009.  The warrant will close at noon Friday, March 13, 2009.  The board will review the draft at the March 17, 2009 meeting and the final warrant on April 7, 2009.

Annual town meeting is a wonderful opportunity for members of the community to more fully participate in the affairs of town government.  The board of selectmen have no say in the content of the articles or whether they can be included on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant.  Only 10 signatures are required to put a citizen’s petition on the warrant.

Contact me if you have questions on how to do this or if you need logistical support.  Remember that by-law changes undergo scrutiny by the Attorney General’s office to insure they are compliant with existing laws and the state constitution.

3 to 1 vote to authorize an RFP to develop the Marra Property

After about an hour’s discussion my colleagues on the board voted to authorize a Request for Proposals to develop the Marra Property despite a vote at the previous week at Town Meeting expressing a lack of confidence in the project.

They plan to solicit bids from contractors and come back to Town Meeting in April to approve the project and to approve the disposition of our land, despite the vote taken last week.

I voted against this action because:

  • Town Meeting’s vote to Indefinitely Postpone Article 11 amounted to a no confidence vote for the project.
  • The project is not likely to achieve its stated goal of providing a safe harbor from 40b developers.
  • There are higher and better uses for that parcel of land.
  • Proceeding ignores the Wampum Corner Corridor Study which was commissioned by the Selectman’s office (for which we paid nearly $50,000).
  • Going forward ignores the will of the community as expressed during the Wampum Corner Corridor Study meetings, which is to leave alone the Wampum Corner Corridor between West Street and 495.
  • When the previous Town Meeting voted down the Hotel Overlay District, they made it clear that the did not want any development between Wampum Corner and 495.

This project is extremely unlikely to accomplish its stated goal of providing a  safe harbor from a large 40b apartment complex.  Even if all of its many moving parts work, as proposed, the assisted living facility will only buy us one to two years safe harbor, at which point we will be faced the the same pressures by large landholders and 40b developers and we will still not have a comprehensive plan to achieve the state mandated 10% affordable housing.

Creating an assisted living facility for injured veterans is a laudable goal. The soldiers who sacrificed their health for our freedom deserve all we can give them and more. However, this issue is about developing an effective policy and a comprehensive strategy for satisfying the state’s M.G.L. 40b housing requirements not about helping disabled veterans.

The project proposed by the RFP, violates the spirit of  M.G.L. 40b which was enacted to stimulate the creation of housing for low to moderate income working people in Massachusetts.  There are so many moving parts to this proposal that Wrentham would be better served by solving our affordable housing requirements differently:

  • Certification of the units by the state as affordable under the terms of 40b  is not guaranteed.
  • Funding depends on securing numerous grants from Federal and State agencies at a time of profound financial uncertainty.
  • Even with Federal and State funding, the economic feasibility of developing the site is cost-prohibitive and, according to the experts with whom I have consulted,  will require a much larger build out to make the numbers work for any potential developer.

The project’s proponents and the lawyer are the same people who led the failed  attempt to force the state to count beds at the state school as certified affordable housing.  Now they want gamble our money on another long shot.

Questions

How can the project’s proponents suggest municipal government “step up to the plate” and find places in the budget to save money on one day and spend our money so frivolously on another?

How many ways does the town have to say no before the project proponents respect the will of the community?

Wrentham Budget Challenges

On February 5th, The Sun Chronicle published an article entitled, “Wrentham to decide tax hike in April.” In it the suggestion was made that municipal government has not done its share to help with our financial crisis, that we should be “managing our budget” better.

Our budget woes are not a result of the department heads and town staff failing to “manage our budget.” The staff at Town Hall have indeed “stepped up to the plate.”  They and the Finance Committee have shown a great respect for the tax payers’ money and have done an amazing job delivering high quality services in an environment of steadily dwindling resources.

The revenue side of the budget equation is a different story.  There have been a number of lost opportunities to improve our revenue situation that did not involve raising taxes and fees and that could have been implemented to the benefit of the town in a different political environment. E.g,

  • Finding a way to make the Hotel Overlay district more compatible with the community’s needs (we lost some $500k in tax revenue from that project)
  • Heeding the recommendations of the PILOT Fund Committee to rezone the State School property from CRSP to commercial to recapture the state PILOT funds (we lost over $300k a year on this)
  • Partnering with a cell carrier to build to the communication tower at Rhodes Drive (and collect rent).

If you’re counting, the hotel district, PILOT fund losses, and partnering with a cell carrier add up to some $800 to $900k+ in revenue, which is about half of the $1.5 million short fall predicted by the Town Administrator.

There are a few places where we can spend less, like our legal budget ($124k). And we need to make those cuts.  However, doing so will not cover the $1.5 million shortfall projected by the town administrator.

When I voted to put the override on the ballot it was out of respect for Wrentham’s residents who are hardworking and intelligent people capable of deciding their own fate at Town Meeting.

The underlying truth about our financial situation is that there’s not much of substance left to cut from the budget.

That means we as a community have to ask the hard question, “Do we want to, or do we have to, cut vital services (like public safety and education) or are we willing to pay to maintain them?”

In this situation, the Board of Selectmen’s job is to inform the public honestly and accurately and let Town Meeting do its job: express the will of the community.

Marra Property And Affordable Housing

On February 2, The Sun Chronicle reported,

“Selectmen say the move will help the town meet the state goal of communities having at least 10 percent of their housing stock classified as affordable, which would give Wrentham more say over 40B affordable housing projects that can bypass most local zoning. Also, assisted living is for senior citizens, which wouldn’t affect local schools, selectmen point out.” (“Funding for union contracts to be decided in Wrentham“)

I did not support this project and neither do I support disposing of the Marra property in that manner.  This it is yet another attempt to side step the intent of Chapter 40b, which is to create affordable housing for people like teachers and town employees and our children who otherwise cannot afford to live in our community.

The state is cracking down on projects like this. They want affordable housing for working people.  Moreover, this project in particular has so many moving parts that the likelihood of success is extremely low.

  • The project proposed at Town Meeting was a “friendly 40b” which means they do not have to face the rigors of the local permitting process.
  • The funding source is the U.S. government which is focused on bailing out Wall St, the banks, and the big three car companies–not human services.
  • The topography of Marra property site is hilly and is not suitable for disabled people.
  • The environmental remediation project is not completed.
  • Where is the list of non-profit companies prepared to step in?

We need to develop and execute a tangible and meaningful affordable housing plan. Changing  Zoning By-law article 13.3 last year was the first step. Previously, the only way to create affordable housing was by 40b projects, which are not required to submit to local zoning scrutiny.

Now we are free to develop projects over which the community will have a great deal of input.

The next step is to disband the 40b Committee and create an “Affordable Housing” committee or perhaps an “Affordable Housing Authority.”  We need to task them with viewing the issue with broader vision and we need to empower them to act in the best interest of the Town of Wrentham.