Slow Growth Initiative wants to repeal the 41-year-old law, saying it is an unfunded mandate that allows developers to flaunt home rule while lining their pockets without benefiting Massachusetts taxpayers.
One number and one letter are at the heart of a simmering battle over the state's affordable housing.
Chapter 40B is the source of derision for some groups, like the Chelmsford-based Slow Growth Initiative.
That initiative wants to repeal the 41-year-old law, saying it is an unfunded mandate that allows developers to flaunt home rule while lining their pockets without benefiting Massachusetts taxpayers.
"It's not based on helping poor people. It's all about how can we sell as many units as possible and for them to still be federally and legally (dubbed) affordable," said Craig Chemaly, the initiative's director, during an editorial board meeting yesterday.
Opponents of the repeal say 40B is, in many instances, responsible for the production of affordable housing that would not have happened without the law.
"It would essentially shut down the ability to create affordable housing," said Aaron Gornstein, executive director for the Citizens' Housing and Planning Association Inc., of a repeal.
Presently, the state Legislature is considering approving the ballot initiative that has already collected tens of thousands of signatures, thanks in large part to a petition-gathering contractor called Freedom Petition Management.
If the Legislature does not approve it by early May, the initiative's proponents will have a little more than a month to collect more than 11,000 additional signatures to ensure it will appear on this fall's ballot.
Under 40B, each community is encouraged to have at least 10 percent of its housing stock defined as affordable.
The law allows developers to circumvent local zoning in cases where a community does not meet such a threshold, as long as a component of the project deals with affordable housing.
At least 25 percent of the units in the project have to be sold as affordable units, but sometimes 20 percent is an acceptable standard.
According to state statistics, last fall a total of 51 municipalities, including Framingham, met the 10 percent standard.
Gornstein said 40B has created 58,000 housing units during its four decades of existence. Some estimates state 31,000 affordable housing units were created thanks to the law, others state 26,000.
"Without it, we would have very little in the way of affordable housing," said Gornstein.
From 1997 to Dec. 2009, 40B accounted for 210 affordable housing units in Hudson, 150 in Framingham, 614 in Natick, and 756 in Marlborough.
But Chemaly thinks that 40B in recent years has created less affordable housing than virtually any other affordable housing program in the state, while costing taxpayers more than all the other programs combined.
The program constitutes "welfare for developers," said Chemaly. Developers get $300 million in tax credits through 40B, said Chemaly.
The state, meanwhile, continues to lag nationally in affordability said Chemaly.
The state ranks 47th in terms of affordable housing nationally, said Chemaly.
Gornstein says Chemaly is misusing national data.
"That's completely untrue," said Gornstein. "Massachusetts is the leading state in the country in addressing housing needs."
Should 40B get repealed, Chemaly thinks more funding should be funnelled to programs like the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition.
As it stands now, Chemaly says that 20 percent of the affordable housing stock is vacant in the state.
Gornstein cited the 15,000 homes that are in the construction queue under the auspices of 40B.
Those projects, along with the jobs they would create or maintain, would likely fall by the wayside if 40B was done away with.
"We can't afford to do that in the midst of a recession that we have," said Gornstein.
Chemaly dismissed CHAPA as a "developer's lobbyist group," a charge Gornstein refutes.
Gornstein says his organization is a network of leaders from business, municipal, civic, and nonprofit communities in the state.
Chemaly claims his initiative has been financially burgeoned by a wave of NIMBY-leaning voters, environmental advocates, and fiscal watchdogs.
One thing is for certain: there's substantial money afoot in this effort.
Rob Wilkinson, co-owner of Freedom Petition Management, told The Lowell Sun earlier this month that Chemaly's initiative had paid his firm more than $200,000 for collecting signatures.
Wilkinson says his company is owed more money. Despite Chemaly saying a payment schedule had been agreed to, Wilkinson yesterday said there is no payment schedule and that his company is in the process of preparing a lawsuit to garner what he feels it is owed.
"All agreements were in writing and there were no misunderstandings," said Wilkinson.
His firm delivered the vast bulk of the signatures gathered, said Wilkinson. His said his company collected more than 91,000 signatures for the initiative.
Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-626-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.