Last week’s Brown School meeting revealed some confusion as to what the definition of “affordable” actually is when it comes to housing. H.L. Menchen famously said, “Define, Define, Define”. If the person you are talking to has another definition for the same word; only confusion can result in the discussion!
Worse, our society is filled with words to create impressions totally opposite of their true meaning. It is very effective in politics to “label” things so the wrong conclusion is made. A classic example is the Federal Clean Water Act. The public thinks the entire legislation is about producing clean water for us to drink and live by. Wrong, all the regulations are about “controlling” levels of pollution. But the title sells well.
Same with the term “Affordable Housing”. Sounds good but unfortunately, a vast majority of uninformed citizens think it really describes affordable. Another sector considered it in a negative context as low-income housing or subsidized housing.
IT IS DEFINITELY NOT!
Others think that providing said resident units will solve the housing crunch! It won’t. Nor is it designed to do so.
Affordable is defined not by the building but by the occupants qualified to inhabit the structure. And it is a pricing based on the communities’ median income. Affordable is a pricing of 80% of the median income.
In a crazy boomtown such as Newburyport, we have attracted a large minority of high-income residents. Thus the median income has jumped up. Thus, 80% of that artificially jacked up number will cause a high number of average-income citizens disqualified to even afford “affordable housing” in Newburyport.
According to the rules, 25% of the units that are to be designated affordable are supposed to be “subsidized” by the developer and reflected in the pricing in the other units. Developers are also limited in their profit margins which is why only a handful in the Commonwealth know how to leverage their projects to maximize benefit. Now, a lot of non-profits can using grants and special loans increase or make all the units affordable but rarely do you find these organizations having enough money to do it by the strict building codes required by the state.
Politics and a very complicated regulation concerning “affordable” have generated a whole range of issues. An absurd Top Ten Myths of 40B, produced by Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association in Boston tries to say that all the myths of 40B are untrue. The sad fact is their myths are reality by just looking at the negative affects in individual communities. Merrimac couldn’t stop 40B’s even though they didn’t have enough water to provide for the projects. Amesbury, chocked full of 40B’s is being dragged down financially on a yearly basis.
It’s all founded on a faulty concept that if you create “affordable housing” by cramming a set demographic into a set place; that the entire community will be diverse, and thus ‘healthy’. Put the poor in a ‘project’, put low-income in ‘their’ neighborhood; and the upper class can be setup nicely in their “gated” community. And of course, by putting in the pretty words, “Smart Growth”, we can cram a whole host of “controlled” populace in a very tight area around a noisy train station by upping the 40B to a 40R. Ugh!
The present statewide crisis is all wrong, and will only get worse. The affordable housing solution will only be a Band-Aid which will only slip off continually as the housing crisis becomes insufferable. This is why so many are leaving the Commonwealth for other parts. This is increasingly becoming God’s beautiful country because only God can afford to live here. (Except for the privileged few, and the poor crammed into tight little holes)
In my second blog post, I’ll explain why Newburyport as recent as the late 1990’s was considered the “perfect” community and why we are rapidly losing that condition.