2010 Information For Voters

QUESTION 2: Law Proposed by Initiative Petition

Comprehensive Permits for Low- or Moderate- Income Housing

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 4, 2010?


As required by law, summaries are written by the State Attorney General, and the statements describing the effect of a “yes” or “no” vote are written jointly by the State Attorney General and the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

This proposed law would repeal an existing state law that allows a qualified organization wishing to build government-subsidized housing that includes low- or moderate-income units to apply for a single comprehensive permit from a city or town’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA), instead of separate permits from each local agency or official having jurisdiction over any aspect of the proposed housing. The repeal would take effect on January 1, 2011, but would not stop or otherwise affect any proposed housing that had already received both a comprehensive permit and a building permit for at least one unit.

Under the existing law, the ZBA holds a public hearing on the application and considers the recommendations of local agencies and officials. The ZBA may grant a comprehensive permit that may include conditions or requirements concerning the height, site plan, size, shape, or building materials of the housing. Persons aggrieved by the ZBA’s decision to grant a permit may appeal it to a court. If the ZBA denies the permit or grants it with conditions or requirements that make the housing uneconomic to build or to operate, the applicant may appeal to the state Housing Appeals Committee (HAC).

After a hearing, if the HAC rules that the ZBA’s denial of a comprehensive permit was unreasonable and not consistent with local needs, the HAC orders the ZBA to issue the permit. If the HAC rules that the ZBA’s decision issuing a comprehensive permit with conditions or requirements made the housing uneconomic to build or operate and was not consistent with local needs, the HAC orders the ZBA to modify or remove any such condition or requirement so as to make the proposal no longer uneconomic. The HAC cannot order the ZBA to issue any permit that would allow the housing to fall below minimum safety standards or site plan requirements. If the HAC rules that the ZBA’s action was consistent with local needs, the HAC must uphold it even if it made the housing uneconomic. The HAC’s decision is subject to review in the courts.

A condition or requirement makes housing “uneconomic” if it would prevent a public agency or non-profit organization from building or operating the housing except at a financial loss, or it would prevent a limited dividend organization from building or operating the housing without a reasonable return on its investment.

A ZBA’s decision is “consistent with local needs” if it applies requirements that are reasonable in view of the regional need for low- and moderate-income housing and the number of low-income persons in the city or town, as well as the need to protect health and safety, promote better site and building design, and preserve open space, if those requirements are applied as equally as possible to both subsidized and unsubsidized housing. Requirements are considered “consistent with local needs” if more than 10% of the city or town’s housing units are low- or moderate-income units or if such units are on sites making up at least 1.5% of the total private land zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial use in the city or town. Requirements are also considered “consistent with local needs” if the application would result, in any one calendar year, in beginning construction of low- or moderate-income housing on sites making up more than 0.3% of the total private land zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial use in the city or town, or on ten acres, whichever is larger.

The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.


A YES VOTE would repeal the state law allowing the issuance of a single comprehensive permit to build housing that includes low- or moderate-income units.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the state law allowing issuance of such a comprehensive permit.

See Full Text of Question 2


As provided by law, the 150-word arguments are written by proponents and opponents of each question, and reflect their opinions. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not endorse these arguments, and does not certify the truth or accuracy of any statement made in these arguments. The names of the individuals and organizations who wrote each argument, and any written comments by others about each argument, are on file in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

IN FAVOR:Voting “Yes” on this Question will ensure that quality affordable housing is built and remains for our parents, children, teachers and public employees. Massachusetts needs more affordable housing. A “Yes” vote will repeal the current “Chapter 40B” statute, a law that promotes subsidized, high-density housing on any parcel of land without regard to local regulations, the neighborhood or the environment. By stripping away local control, it has destroyed communities in rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods alike, while lining the pockets of out of state speculators. The current statute does not build affordable housing. Rather, it maintains a corrupt law that the Massachusetts Inspector General has called a “pig fest” and “represents one of the biggest abuses in state history”. A “Yes” vote will stop this outrageous misuse of tax payer money and allow cities and towns to build affordable housing for those who need it most.

Authored by:
John Belskis
Coalition for the Repeal of 40B
196 Wollaston Avenue
Arlington, MA 02476

AGAINST:This referendum would abolish the primary tool to create affordable housing in Massachusetts without providing any alternatives. Housing in Massachusetts is very expensive. We need to protect the Affordable Housing Law so that seniors and working families can afford to buy homes here. The Affordable Housing Law has created 58,000 homes across the state and is responsible for approximately 80% of new affordable housing over the past decade, outside the larger cities. Repealing this law will mean the loss of badly needed construction jobs. Thousands of homes that have already been approved for development will not be built if this law is repealed. Homes and jobs will be lost, and there will be less affordable housing for seniors and working families. A coalition of hundreds of civic, municipal, business, environmental and religious leaders, including the League of Women Voters and AARP, urge you to vote No. 

Authored by:
Tripp Jones, Chair
Campaign to Protect the Affordable Housing Law
P.O. Box 960158
Boston, MA 02109