Terra Friedrichs

& her local work in
Acton, Massachusetts

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Housing - 40B

I believe that housing is a right. Does that mean a mansion for every person? marble countertops and garages? No way. But I believe that basic, safe, and healthy housing is a human right.

[See this link for the Green Acton memo which includes Green Acton's new environmental-justice-based Housing Principles, Terra worked on this with 9 other people who agreed that this should be our guiding principles] [UPDATE: Terra contributed to Acton's updated Housing Production Plan. Here is a sample of one of the memos that Terra created, which is stored in this folder with other public comments. Note from Terra about the HPP project: "Acton now has the goal to focus "production" of affordable housing on people making less than 50% median [about $50K/year. This is great, because it will help make Acton more diverse, and focus on those who need housing the most, while opening up more opportunities to increase racial diversity. It also calls for a focus on rehabbing existing units and making them permanently affordable. Thanks to all who helped make this possible. Now we have to actually get it done. Will we remain a town that is unaffordable because its "affordable housing" relies on new building, which costs so much more than rehab, and if history is any indication of the future, will be just one more free market trickle down failure. If we only have so much water left, do we want to allow develoeprs to squander it? or do we make sure that it goes to serve the community? I say we hold tight to these resources and make sure that our community goals are met"]

To that end, how do we ensure that everyone in Acton has its fair share of safe/affordable housing?

I believe that the best way to ensure that Acton has enough affordable housing, while also being environmentally sustainable and wise about town character and limited road capacity, is to rehab existing housing units to serve our housing needs. We currently have thousands of housing units (houses, condos, apartments) that would meet the need for housing, but which are not "deed restricted" to ensure that the housing is reserved for those who need it the most.

I believe that new building should be reserved for those who can not be served by existing units. 

By using existing buildings [or replacement within the same footprint] we can serve people who need help getting housing, while at the same time protecting the neighborhood character AND preserving precious environmental resources!

We all win!

Currently, I believe that the town is "over spending" our environmental subsidies and not getting what we actually need.

We need REAL affordable housing for PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY NEED HELP coming to live here to help us become more diverse.

Currently, Chapter 40B (state law) allows developers to bypass local zoning.

Dos this help? It helps the developers and people who are able to afford the units and the rents that come with these projects. 

But the projects almost always help people who make $50K/year or more, and who can already find affordable housing in their price range..

Is that where you want your environmental subsidies to go?

I don't. I feel like we have a better solution to make sure people who need housing can find it.

Acton has ALWAYS done its share. Decades ago, Acton had almost 50% of its housing unit stock "very affordable", as in people who are very low income and below. Currently, Acton still has more multi-family housing units than any town around here. But while Acton is a regional leader in ensuring/preserving multi-family housing units, ti's not deed restricting enough of them and the prices are rising out of reach of workers, it's also become a leader in allowing the destruction of our forest lands to create more and more housing that isn't a public necessity.

With all of the success of Acton's housing policy, it doesn't meet our social obligation because of the Chapter 40B law which requires towns to DEED RESTRICT the units for them to "count". I'm in support of the idea of deed restriction. It ensures that the housing unit is available for people who need it the most.

So what do we do?

Do we continue to build and build and build in the hopes that industry will magically provide these deed restrictions?

I say we should limit building to "public necessity" building, for when we need new buildings that do not exist. Over building a waste of environmental resources, but it uses up fixed assets of road safety and water.

So when we have the buildings, but they are not reserved for people who actually need the help the most, and they do not count toward our 40B requirement, what do we do?

So I would like to deed restrict these units by having the town buy them, deed restrict them, and then either rent them or resell them.

I believe that this plan will actually make us sustainable, fiscally, socially, and environmentally.

It will deed restrict hundreds, if not thousands of the most affordable housing units in Acton, to preserve rents at less than $1,400, a large number of which are less than $1,000. We need to deed restrict these!

We are moving toward setting up a housing trust to facilitate this. Acton has already deed restricted a few existing units. But it's too hard for existing agencies to do. So we're proposing setting up another agency to make this happen.

If you're a taxpayer, how does that impact your money?

An Ping [at the time, an Acton Planning Board member] published an opinion piece in the Acton Forum (under Richard Liu's blog account). Click here to see it. The focus of the article is on economics and it shows how it's economically wise to engage in a serious Condo Buydown Program to meet our 40B requirement than to continue to build new. For people who are mostly concerned about their property values he presents a compelling argument. I must state, however, that my main goal in doing the condo-buydown program is not to protect property values, even though I believe it will. I am linking to Anping's post, because it explains how it's "worthwhile" monetarily to support the Condo-Buydown Program. He explains using simple economics why it's better to buy up the condos on Rt2a and deed restrict them to meet our Chapter 40B obligation, than to continue to build new. The small extra cost in taxes would pay taxpayers back many fold in their property values. We'll avoid costs, and giving up precious environmental and road safety issues. I am in support of condo buydown because it is the right thing to do, and the most fiscally responsible way to meet our social obligation. BUT even if it did not increase/bolster my property value, I would promote it anyway.

If you're a social justice advocate, how does a serious CondoBuydown program help?

It gets us more units available to people who need help the most in the quickest way possible. There are 40-50 units available on the market each year, that are priced $250K or below. Something like 20 of those are $150K or below. These units would all qualify for Chapter 40B. AND they will have rents at $1,200/month or below, maybe (if I get my way!) priced $1,000/month or below..."forever" meaning that these will be DEED RESTRICTED, so that they will never be subject to market extremes again... Can you imagine if we had an additional 40 or 50 units available to the lowest income people EACH YEAR?  wouldn't that be great!

If you want to help with this project, please let me know!
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