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Dispute over affordable housing project in Norwood halts action on housing bill on Beacon Hill

Posted by Your Town  July 25, 2013 06:09 PM

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A $1.4 billion housing bond bill was temporarily derailed Thursday by a Weymouth senator who objected to a “special favor” amendment that he said was designed to stop an affordable housing project in Norwood.

GOP Sen. Robert Hedlund called the amendment sponsored by Sen. Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury) “patently unfair” to other communities who have unsuccessfully fought affordable housing projects based on local considerations. He argued many communities have had to “contend with projects that take a sledgehammer to local control.”

A developer in Norwood is in the midst of building a large commercial and residential property at the old Polaroid facility located on Rte. 1A. The amendment was included in the House version of the housing bond bill.

Hedlund argued the amendment would set a precedent by stopping a project for one community.

“I can provide a bus tour, if you like, down in my district. I can show you half-a-dozen projects more onerous than this,” Hedlund said before he halted debate on the bill for the day by using a motion to “lay the matter on the table,” which automatically postpones consideration of a bill until the next session.

“The problem is those of us who in good faith have been trying to reform 40B for years have gotten nowhere in this building,” Hedlund told the News Service after the Senate session. “You cannot just stop one project.”

Hedlund said lawmakers and municipal officials have pushed for decades to make changes to the state’s affordable housing law, known as Chapter 40B. He said any attempts at reform have failed in the Legislature.

First enacted in 1969, the law allows the state to streamline local permitting for housing developments that include a certain percentage of affordable units in communities where less than 10 percent of housing is considered affordable. Hedlund has long argued the law is outdated and in desperate need of reform.

“I know there is pent-up demand to seek common sense reform to the law, which has proven to be flawed,” Hedlund said during debate. “Don’t be mistaken. We all want to see the creation of affordable housing.”

If a community does deny a project, very often the developers seek relief from the state Housing Appeals Commission, which routinely overrides the town’s decision, Hedlund said.

In 2010, Massachusetts voters, by a 58-42 margin, rejected an initiative petition to repeal the Chapter 40B law.

After a brief Republican caucus held in the middle of session, Hedlund attempted to persuade his colleagues to postpone debate until July 30, saying senators need more time to consider amendments. After his postponement motion was overwhelmingly rejected, Hedlund moved to lay the bill on the table.

Sen. Brian Joyce, a Milton Democrat, said he shared the frustration, but urged his colleagues to pass the bill.

“Part of the frustration is there has been a reluctance on the part of the chamber down the hall for fear the members there may throw the baby out with the bath water, that is seek to abolish Chapter 40B rather than improve it,” Joyce said. “But the matter before us is a $1.4 billion bond bill.”

Joyce said the Senate could debate reforms to the affordable housing law at another time.

Hedlund said he was unsure if he would use the parliamentary procedure again. A bill can be laid on the table three times before Senate leaders consider it a dilatory maneuver and force a vote on the issue.

Before debate stopped, senators rejected several amendments to the bill that would authorize $1.4 billion in capital spending over the next five years. The bill creates a new fund from which the Department of Early Education and Care will make grants to non-profit child care facilities for improvements.

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