Class Aims to Help Local Officials Understand Affordable Housing Laws

Aug 16, 2018

Credit Livingroomconversations.org

It's no secret that affordable housing is tough to come by on the Cape and Islands. Two local nonprofits, the Housing Assistance Corporation in Hyannis, and the Community Development Partnership in Eastham, have come together to offer a set of classes aimed at helping town officials, volunteer board members, and residents better understand the affordable housing landscape. 

That includes Chapter 40B, the state law that allows approved developments to be exempt from some zoning laws if builders agree to making a certain percentage of the units affordable. 

Last year, approximately 140 local officials and volunteers took the free courses, but many more are eligible. WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Laura Reckford, of the Housing Assistance Corporation, to learn more. 

Eident: Talk about the curriculum a little bit.

Reckford: Affordable housing, particularly the financing of it, is very complicated. And, so we did give an affordable housing 101 with all the alphabet soup of acronyms, and then we went into the details of it-- about financing, about Chapter 40 B and the town's role, about the fair housing laws. We talked about zoning, we talked about how towns can partner with developers, how towns can be proactive and put together a housing production plan. That gives the towns a lot more leverage when the developer comes to town, rather than having the developer pick the property that they want to develop. The town can say, "Look, these are the properties we're interested in turning into housing. Can you perhaps consider one of those?"

Eident: Who are you hoping to reach this year?

Reckford: Housing Assistance Corporation is partnering with Community Development Partnership on this initiative, and we've spent time putting together a curriculum that not only has different speakers from last year, but also topics that we didn't cover last year that people specifically asked for. And so, we are expecting some people who attended last year.

In addition, one of the things we are most proud of last year on the feedback forms was that 100% of the people who turned down those feedback forms said they would recommend this to colleagues on their boards and committees. And so, we're talking about a potential of more than 1,000 people who are eligible to attend. I should mention: we know that people on town boards and committees, these volunteers, are already spending at least one night in these long committee meetings.

And so, we are making this free, and we also are making it as convenient as possible. So, each class is done for different times in each part of the Cape.

Eident: How is this program funded?

Reckford: There have been some very generous employers who feel the pinch of the lack of affordable housing in town. We have gone out for grants, and we've also gone to all 15 towns on the Cape through their Community Preservation committees. One of the aspects for Community Preservation funding is housing and support for housing.

Eident: Are there other programs like this that you could turn to, or is this a one-of-a-kind thin?

Reckford: It's a one-o-a-kind thing on the Cape. We were inspired by a statewide similar institute that an organization called Massachusetts Housing Partnership. And this institute was inspired by that.

Eident: And if a member of the public is listening saying, "Gosh, I'd like to learn more," but this really is geared toward folks that are part of the machinery of government., you have another program that might speak to them.

Reckford: Absolutely. We do have a program in the winter called the Cape Housing Advocacy Training. That's for the people who want to listen to these projects, attend a Planning Board meeting, attend their Town Meeting and speak up in favor of a development. Because, we know that the opponents always turn out and the people in favor sometimes don't turn out; they might not know the process is going on. So, this class talks about affordable housing and the problem we have here. And, it gave people tips for how to put together a short speech to speak before a planning board or a town meeting. So, we'll be doing that again this winter probably January, February, March.

Eident: Laura Reckford, of the Housing Assistance Corporation, thank so much for coming in and chatting with us about this program.

Reckford: Thanks for having me, Kathryn.

Learn more about the classes at capehousinginstitute.org.