Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, February 2012

MMA Innovation Award winner, 2012

Meeting the goals of Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable-housing law, has never been easy. Since the law was created more than four decades ago, only about one in every seven cities and towns has succeeded in reaching its target: having at least 10 percent of all housing units in the community meet the state-set definition of “affordable.”

Even communities that do hit the mark have no guarantee that they will remain there, said Sudbury Planning and Community Development Director Jody Kablack.

“You spend a lot of time and energy creating these [affordable] units,” Kablack said. “But if you don’t monitor them over time, you can lose them.”

Kablack helped to establish a regional approach to monitoring the affordable-housing stock of Sudbury and five other area towns.

A probe launched by the Inspector General’s Office in 2006 found that developers’ profits on affordable-housing projects were routinely understated, depriving communities of the full amount they should have been paid under the regulatory agreement.

The nonprofit Citizens Housing and Planning Association also came under scrutiny, to the detriment of towns such as Sudbury, according to Kablack. Until then, CHAPA had helped Sudbury and other communities monitor their affordable-housing inventories. But soon after the IG’s report was released, CHAPA withdrew from the role.

Research by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in 2009 showed strong interest among Sudbury and other towns west of Boston for developing strategies to monitor affordable housing.

Around that same time, Bedford, Concord, Lexington and Lincoln – all of which had met their 10 percent affordable-housing goal – identified the monitoring and preservation of their housing inventories as important tasks. Weston, which remained below the 10 percent threshold, became the fifth member of the group.

Sudbury, which had worked closely with the MAPC in analyzing the feasibility of creating a regional entity, became the consensus choice to administer the program.

In February of last year, the boards of selectmen of all six towns, with the support of the Department of Housing and Community Development, signed an agreement establishing Sudbury as the site of a regional housing services office.

The arrangement, which became effective at the beginning of the current fiscal year, enables the five other towns to pay pro-rated fees for the 28 hours per week that Sudbury employees, including Community Housing Coordinator Beth Rust, devote to the program. Rates for the member communities range from roughly $11,400 for Lincoln and Weston to about $24,000 for Bedford and Lexington.

Kablack described the project as a cautious approach to an important problem.

“I think towns understand that we need to work steadily and slowly, and not bite off more than we can chew,” she said.

For more information, contact Jody Kablack at (978) 639-3387.

The winners of the annual Kenneth Pickard Municipal Innovation Awards were recognized at the MMA Annual Meeting on Jan. 21.