Inclusionary Housing Discussion

Members of Marion’s Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, and Affordable Housing Trust all met on Thursday, January 30, to discuss the future of the town’s affordable housing strategy.

Resident Sherman Briggs had previously raised a concern with the Planning Board, noting that the town would be missing out on valuable income if the town continues to enforce the bylaw after reaching the 10-percent affordable-housing requirement mandated by the state.

            A multi-unit development currently planned for Wareham Road would push Marion beyond the 10-percent affordable-housing requirement when and if it is completed. However, affordable housing generally has a limited date; it becomes “regular” housing after a set number of years (generally 15 to 20), which could trigger Marion to fall back below the minimum affordable-housing requirement in the future. 

            Marion’s current affordable housing bylaw requires that any development of six or more units must ensure that 10 percent of the units are affordable — or developers will pay a fine of $200,000. While the bylaw is on the books, it was pointed out at the meeting that the bylaw has ended up being highly ineffectual and has never actually been enforced.

            “The financial requirements are punitive,” noted Selectman John Waterman, “and they aren’t in proportion with a developer’s potential profits. There’s no regard to the risk a developer takes on to sell a project and make a profit. A developer would need to sink any initial profit he or she made into that penalty if they chose that route.”

            Waterman suggested a short-term fix, what he called a “stopgap” that would allow town officials more time to deliberate a thoughtful and effective long-term plan. He proposed lowering the affordable housing requirements for a development of six or more units to five percent affordable housing, or requiring a $75,000 in lieu of the affordable housing. 

“Those are more affordable to developers, and they’re more likely to comply with them,” he explained. In the meantime, he added that the town should form a task force to investigate, develop and recommend a new inclusionary zoning bylaw — one that he said will actually result in some new affordable housing being built every year or two. 

            Representatives of the Affordable Housing Trust agreed with this plan, noting that the idea of a task force was appealing. They did point out, however, that they would prefer to wait on amending the bylaw until the 10-percent requirement has actually been met. 

            Planning Board member Eileen Marum said that she had done research on cases where the state had been asked to extend the leases on affordable housing — in effect, keeping the classes as “affordable” for a longer period of time. 

“I think it’s certainly something to think about here,” she added. 

            The selectmen and members of the Planning Board agreed to continue discussing ideas into the future, including at the next meetings of both boards.

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Andrea Ray

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