Advertisement

April 19, 2014

The Supreme Judicial Court Declares that Inexpensive Market-Rate Housing May Not Be Counted in Determining a Town’s Compliance with Chapter 40B

On Tuesday, in Zoning Board of Appeals of Lunenburg v. Housing Appeals Committee, the Supreme Judicial Court soundly rejected a zoning board of appeals’ argument that inexpensive market-rate homes may be counted toward a town’s affordable housing obligations under Chapter 40B.

The board contended that a developer could not invoke Chapter 40B even though only 1.9% of Lunenburg’s housing stock was recognized by the state as subsidized housing — because, the board argued, cheap market-rate homes already met what Chapter 40B calls the “regional need for low and moderate income housing.”

On appeal to the state’s highest court, Nick Cramb of Mintz Levin successfully argued on behalf of the developer that the legislature defined “low and moderate income housing” as housing subsidized through a government program for good reason: subsidized housing ensures the longevity of affordable prices as well as the safety and quality of the affordable housing units. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, explaining that “market-rate housing, by definition, fails to meet the subsidy, use restriction and affirmative fair marketing plan requirements.” The court went on to state that market-rate housing “cannot provide uniformity… or guarantee minimum standards of quality necessary for long-term affordability… there is no guarantee that housing currently priced within the range targeted to income eligible families will be ultimately occupied by them, or that it will remain affordable.” As such, “evidence of low cost market-rate housing cannot be factored into the consideration of the regional need for affordable housing.”

The court also dispatched the town’s other arguments, finding that: (1) although Lunenburg had completed affordable housing and sewer planning, it had yet to generate any affordable housing under its plan, and Hollis Hills’ project would not undermine the town’s master plans; (2) a zoning violation on a neighboring plot — that might have “infected” one of Hollis Hills’ parcels pursuant to a doctrine known as “infectious invalidity” — was insufficient to outweigh the need for affordable housing; and (3) the board’s argument that the underlying decision by Housing Appeals Committee was invalid because one of its seats had not been filled by the governor was meritless: “Three members of the [Committee] may decide an appeal.”

This is an important decision for developers. A contrary ruling would have made the application of Chapter 40B a function of geography; the law would apply in expensive Boston suburbs, but not in counties where housing prices are lower. The application of Chapter 40B would also have become a function of market timing as it would not apply in depressed real estate markets. Significantly, the decision removes uncertainty from the Comprehensive Permit process that would have made a developer’s decision to invest more difficult. Allowing a town to count unspecified market-rate housing towards its 10% goal would discourage a developer from using Chapter 40B if it could not tell at the outset whether a town might object to its application on the grounds that market-rate housing made Chapter 40B inapplicable. Finally, this decision confirms that the legislature did not intend to allow a lowest common denominator approach to providing housing to persons of low and moderate income, and therefore a town cannot rely on its cheapest and least habitable market-rate student apartments and dilapidated houses to meet a statutorily-recognized housing need.

©1994-2014 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author

Nicholas C. Cramb, Insurance Attorney, Mintz Levin Law Firm
Associate

Nick's practice includes all areas of complex litigation, with a focus on insurance/reinsurance disputes and real estate litigation. Nick has represented a wide range of clients, from shopping malls to individual property owners, in disputes involving zoning, subdivision, and wetland issues. Nick has also represented insurers and reinsurers on matters of coverage, the duty to defend, allocation, and bad faith. Nick is a director of the Massachusetts Reinsurance Bar Association (MReBA) and a member of ARIAS-U.S.

Nick served as a Special Assistant District Attorney with the...

617-348-1740

About the Author

Caitie A. Hill, Litigation Attorney, Mintz Levin law firm
Associate

Caitie’s practice focuses on a litigation matters, including complex civil litigation, business litigation, and construction law. Caitie’s experience also includes coverage issues involving directors and officers. She recently co-authored the Director and Officer Liability Insurance Chapter of the American Bar Association Annual Review of Developments in Business and Corporate Litigation.

As well, Caitie maintains an active pro bono practice. She has represented individuals in civil rights, housing, and immigration matters, and has also represented victims of domestic...

617-348-1723

Boost: AJAX core statistics

Legal Disclaimer

You are responsible for reading, understanding and agreeing to the National Law Review's (NLR’s) and the National Law Forum LLC's  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy before using the National Law Review website. The National Law Review is a free to use, no-log in database of legal and business articles. The content and links on www.NatLawReview.com are intended for general information purposes only. Any legal analysis, legislative updates or other content and links should not be construed as legal or professional advice or a substitute for such advice. No attorney-client or confidential relationship is formed by the transmission of information between you and the National Law Review website or any of the law firms, attorneys or other professionals or organizations who include content on the National Law Review website. If you require legal or professional advice, kindly contact an attorney or other suitable professional advisor.  

Some states have laws and ethical rules regarding solicitation and advertisement practices by attorneys and/or other professionals. The National Law Review is not a law firm nor is www.NatLawReview.com  intended to be  a referral service for attorneys and/or other professionals. The NLR does not wish, nor does it intend, to solicit the business of anyone or to refer anyone to an attorney or other professional.  NLR does not answer legal questions nor will we refer you to an attorney or other professional if you request such information from us. 

Under certain state laws the following statements may be required on this website and we have included them in order to be in full compliance with these rules. The choice of a lawyer or other professional is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Attorney Advertising Notice: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Statement in compliance with Texas Rules of Professional Conduct. Unless otherwise noted, attorneys are not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, nor can NLR attest to the accuracy of any notation of Legal Specialization or other Professional Credentials.

The National Law Review - National Law Forum LLC 4700 Gilbert Ave. Suite 47 #230 Western Springs, IL 60558  Telephone  (708) 357-3317 If you would ike to contact us via email please click here.