Opinion: Vote ‘yes’ on affordable housing article

Jun 10, 2021

To the Editor,

I wanted to remind everyone that Wareham’s Annual Town Meeting is this Saturday, June 12, 2021, starting at 11:00 am at the Decas Elementary School field.

I’d like to ask you all to please come out and support Article 26. Article 26 provides local initiatives to solve Wareham’s affordable housing crisis by offering multiple ways for Wareham residents to participate in helping to solve Wareham’s affordable housing problem while financially benefiting themselves, supporting local businesses, and expanding Wareham’s tax base without losing open space, while protecting Wareham from unwanted development forced upon us.

I have been a proponent of Affordable Housing for years, but I’m not a fan of the State’s Affordable Housing Law, commonly known as 40B, because it hands a town’s control over to developers, and it often puts excessive burdens on towns. Even the threat of a 40B can scare towns into allowing things they normally wouldn’t. 

If a neighborhood was developed on 5,000 square foot lots, but a property is made up of 2 lots (so it’s 10,000 square feet), Bylaw 830 would allow it to be divided into 2 lots (subject to certain requirements), one with the original house on one lot and the empty one to be used to build an affordable house!  The bylaw only lets properties to be divided in accordance with a previously approved plan that complements other properties in the neighborhood – it doesn’t allow someone to go in and cut a bunch of little lots out of a 1-acre lot in a neighborhood: that’s something a developer could do right now, under 40B.

Bylaw 840 allows for deed-restricted In-law or accessory apartments to either be built within or attached to houses, and also allows residents who were granted approval for in-law apartments to be able to keep them if they deed restrict them affordable. Currently, they have to deconstruct them when a family member is no longer using them.  Bylaw 840 also provides “amnesty” for anyone who has an illegal apartment to be able to come forward without penalty if they deed restrict it “affordable.”

Big Developers find Wareham “ripe for the picking” because we’re considered part of the Boston Housing Market by HUD. So under the 40B law, they can buy land low and sell houses or rent apartments high, waiving ALL of our local Zoning Bylaws, as long as 20-25% of the units are deed-restricted affordable.  At that rate, Wareham never seems to be able to reach the State-mandated 10%, so we are continually at the mercy of the developers.  

These proposed bylaws in Article 26 require 100% of the units to be deed-restricted affordable, therefore, we can meet our town’s requirement of affordable housing and put a stop to unwanted development. We won’t have to live in fear that giant 40B developments will be built because once we hit our goal, Wareham can say “NO” to unwanted development.

It’s received favorable votes by the Finance Committee and the Planning Board.  Thanks for your consideration. I hope to see you at Town Meeting this Saturday.

Brenda Eckstrom