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Senator Spilka Votes to Preserve Affordable Housing to Protect Seniors and Persons with Disabilities

July 21, 2009

(BOSTON) – The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation to preserve the stock of publicly-assisted affordable housing units across the state and protect the rights of tenants by implementing earlier notification standards for property owners and establishing a non-partisan advisory board representing tenants, property owners, municipalities and preservation experts to work with the state in developing future regulations.

“This is an important and timely bill that is both fiscally and morally responsible,” stated Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland).  “It is much cheaper to preserve existing affordable housing units than build new ones.  In these tough economic times, it is imperative that the Commonwealth find a way to continue to provide housing for our most vulnerable populations, including seniors and persons with disabilities, while not taking on unnecessary expenses.”

“Affordable housing has always been an important part of keeping a viable workforce and quality of life in Massachusetts,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “Now, with our current economic conditions, we have an even greater responsibility to make sure affordable housing stays available, and that’s what this bill does.”

The bill targets the state’s estimated 90,000 government-assisted rental housing units, including so called “expiring use” units whose affordability restrictions can end by owners prepaying their subsidized mortgages or not renewing their rent assistance contracts upon expiration. Massachusetts is at risk of losing more than 23,000 units by the end of 2012. Many of the residents in “expiring use” buildings are seniors or people with disabilities.

The Senate legislation establishes provisions that will help preserve as many units as possible. It requires owners who want to sell affordable rental property, thereby ending its affordability status, to offer a right of first refusal to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) or the local municipality to purchase the property so that affordability can be preserved.

The bill implements a string of notification requirements also aimed at preserving affordability and protecting tenants. They include the following:

– Written notice must be given at least two years prior to the affordability restriction’s termination;
– Written notice of intent to complete termination must be given at least one year before termination;
– Owners must give notice of intent to sell the property; and
– Owners, upon notice of intent to sell, must make documents, including architectural plans, capital expenses and the number of vacancies available for review by DHCD to help determine property value and purchasing options.

The legislation further ensures the protection of tenants by preventing unfair rent increases for three years after the termination of affordability restrictions and forbidding no-fault evictions.

Finally, to oversee compliance with the bill and secure future safeguards, the bill gives DHCD authority to establish a 13-member advisory committee consisting of housing advocates, municipal representatives, developers and the real estate bar that will provide regulatory advice and recommendations.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.

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