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BOSTON-The House and the Senate have hammered out an agreement on a bill that provides for changes to the state’s affordable-housing bill. The changes enable the state’s housing bond bill to move forward.

While the $508-million housing-bond bill and the affordable-housing bill are two separate proposals, legislators held up the bond bill until the House and the Senate–which each passed its own version of the affordable housing bill–ironed out their differences. State housing advocates were concerned that housing subsidies would be held up indefinitely if the bill didn’t reach the floor before the state legislature ends its session this Wednesday.

The state’s controversial affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, which was passed in the early 1970s to spur development of low-income housing, allows developers of affordable housing projects to bypass local zoning laws if a town or city has less than 10% affordable housing. The goal was to spread those projects around the suburbs rather than have them all concentrated in urban areas. But local towns and cities have been pressuring their lawmakers because they contend that developers have been taking advantage of the law to get their projects approved.

Among the contentious issues of the bill was the definition of affordable housing and the power local officials can have over a 40B project. As part of the agreement worked out in the House, new inclusions in the affordable-housing designation will be accessory apartments that are occupied by persons who are at or below 80% of median income and who pay less than 40% of their income towards rent as well as housing units created through the Community Preservation Act that are occupied by persons who are at or below 80% of median income.

The legislation will also give communities more authority to deny comprehensive permit applications by broadening the definition of “consistent with local needs.” A community may deny a comprehensive permit application if, for the six-month period after filing, the number of units proposed in the application are approximately 2% of a town’s own housing stock. Also a community may deny a comprehensive permit application if it has increased its low or moderate income housing stock by at least 2% in the year prior to the date of the application.

If a city or town develops a plan that is certified by the Department of Housing and Community Development to increase its affordable housing stock by at least .5% annually, the community can choose not to accept, review, or approve any permit applications for one year following the date of the certification of the plan.

As part of the legislation, developers will be prohibited from filing an application for a comprehensive permit for 12 months from the date of a prior application–or denial of application–for a project on the same land.

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