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Editorial missed key points in SJC’s Sunderland decision

To the editor:

I was very disappointed in the Gazette’s editorial dated Jan. 28, “Affordable, by any name.” The town of Sunderland did raise questions about the state’s affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, but you did your readers a disservice by not explaining the reasoning presented in the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision.

Sunderland has a large percentage of its housing supply as rental and the rents may match the affordable rent requirements under Chapter 40B. However, this housing is over 40 years old, predominantly occupied by students, is not restricted to income-eligible households and may become unaffordable at any time in the future.

Only 0.4 percent of Sunderland’s current rental stock qualifies under Chapter 40B because it is not subsidized under a government program.

The SJC decision Jan. 14 in the matter of the Sunderland Zoning Board of Appeals vs. Sugarbush Meadow LLC clearly explains: “Some market rate housing may be affordable because the units are neither decent nor safe. Other affordable market rate housing units may be both decent and safe, but may be affordable only temporarily because of a weak housing market. As the housing market strengthens, there is no way to ensure that rental payments for market rate housing units may not rise to levels that would be unaffordable to low- or moderate-income households, either because of overall rising rental prices or because landlords decide to improve or enlarge the units. Nor is there any way to ensure that affordable units in market rate housing projects will be limited in availability to low or moderate income households, especially where the town attracts many students living off-campus from the University of Massachusetts in nearby Amherst.”

The Gazette goes on to cite the Inspector General’s perennial attack on Chapter 40B. The question should be why the IG, a known opponent of Chapter 40B, keeps making fraud complaints when the evidence shows there have been very few actual instances of fraud or abuse in this well-monitored and effective program.

Connie Kruger


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