The following column by State Representative David DeCoste (R-Norwell) recently appeared in the Boston Globe’s South section in response to the question: “Should mobile homes be counted as part of a municipality’s affordable-housing stock?” Rep. DeCoste is currently sponsoring House Bill 660, An Act expanding the definition of affordable housing to include manufactured homes.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Act, usually referred to as “Chapter 40B” because of its designation in the Massachusetts General Laws, was originally known as the “Anti-Snob Zoning Act.” The law, adopted in 1969, is meant to encourage production of affordable homes by allowing developers to bypass municipal zoning bylaws in communities whose housing stock is below 10 percent affordable. Developers in exchange commit to set aside at least 25 percent of a project’s units as affordable. The law allows a state panel to reverse a local zoning board’s denial of a 40B proposal. This has resulted in developments being constructed without consideration of the impact on schools, roads, water, and other municipal infrastructure.
In the last several years, legislation has been filed to have 40B regulations modified to allow mobile homes to count toward the 10 percent affordable home stock requirement in specific towns or in some cases throughout the Commonwealth. To date, all of this legislation has failed to be acted on by lawmakers. In 2016, the Legislature directed the state Department of Revenue to conduct a study of mobile home communities to measure the percentage of resident households that would qualify for low- or moderate-income housing under 40B.
The report, issued last April, found that 78 percent of mobile home residents with identified tax returns would qualify for low- or moderate-income housing based on income. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the very affordable nature of these communities. Yet current law stipulates that cities and towns cannot count a single one of these units against their affordable-housing inventories.
A better policy for the state is to give municipalities an incentive to approve mobile home communities. Manufactured housing represents an excellent value on a square-footage basis for housing. We should recognize that fact and give communities credit for all or a significant percentage of existing manufactured housing units. This would result in a more accurate count of ‘affordable’ units, but it would also spur the addition of more of this type of housing in our state.