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BOSTON-The Senate unanimously passed a large housing bill that included some relief to communities feeling overwhelmed by the state’s affordable housing law. Under the law, Chapter 40B, developers are allowed to bypass local zoning laws in a town with less than 10% affordable housing to develop residential complexes, if their projects include at least 25% of units that are affordable.

Towns complained that developers were taking advantage of the law to ram their projects through local zoning boards. But as part of the housing bill the Senate passed, mobile homes would be counted as part of a town’s affordable housing stock. The House also passed this amendment but the Senate added two significant provisions. First, mobile homes cannot count for more than 5% of the town’s stock and income verification needs to be done on those who live in the mobile home. Their home can only be counted if the household earns less than 80% of the median income.

Using Section 8 vouchers, which are federal subsidies for housing, to count towards affordable housing was rejected. But the Senate did add an amendment that if a city or town developed a plan to achieve 10% affordable housing in their community then they would be exempt from Chapter 40B if they achieved 1% of that goal every year. The House plan would allow a town or city to take a year off from Chapter 40B if it achieved two percent affordable housing in the previous year.

One of the bills in the Senate–which is similar to the House version–authorizes $508 million in bond spending to develop and maintain affordable housing. Another similar bill allows for a one-year cooling-off period for developers after they apply for the comprehensive permit under Chapter 40B.

The Senate bill, now heads to committee to work out compromises with the House bill before going to Governor Jane Swift for signing.

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