WAMC New England News
12:55 pm
Mon July 27, 2009

Affordable Housing Bill seeks to extend protections

Berkshire County – In Massachusetts, over 20 thousand affordable housing units could fall out of public control in the next few years. The Senate recently passed a measure that would extend the rent restrictions for these units for up to three years. Our Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz takes a look at the issue.

Many of the units in question were built in the 1970's and they came with mortgages that generally spanned 25 to 40 years. The incentive back then was that through state and federal programs, property owners could still make a profit by taking advantage of state subsidies. Most of these contracts are slated to expire within the next decade, which would mean that property owners could push out the low rent payers in favor of getting market value for their units.

The bill that passed through the senate would require affordable housing property owners to notify state and local officials of their intent to sell their property, and would give the community development agencies first dibs on the purchase. The bill also seeks to limit rent hikes for the three years following the mortgage's expiration. Brad Gordon says the state might be financially strapped but the investment will pay off.

Elton Ogden is the President of the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, he has been watching this issue for several years. Ogden says there is a quality issue with many of the units on the market, and the housing corporation getting first rights on a property will help to keep it away from developers that would look to renovate and flip it for profit.

Ogden also says that affordable housing units throughout the county have waiting lists. Brad Gordon is the Executive Director and staff attorney at the Berkshire County regional Housing Authority. He says these properties not only need to be protected, but more need to come on the market.

Beth Pearson of Pearson properties recently put up a new affordable housing unit right in downtown Pittsfield, and she says so far it's been working out.

The bill now sits in front of the house of representatives. Calls to local legislators were not returned in time for broadcast.