Two proposed 40B housing developments near Wellesley’s Sprague Elementary School have inspired neighbors to form a grassroots outfit called Our Affordable Wellesley designed to give them a stronger collective voice regarding the future of their surroundings. The movement isn’t limited to their neighborhood, however, as it also takes into consideration 6 other such “Summer of 40B” projects being proposed across town— plus those that might yet have been conceived.
The underlying philosophy of the group is to make Wellesley housing more affordable to diverse groups, including younger and older demographics; make it more possible for employees of the town to live in the community they serve; gain consensus on the appropriateness of select town-owned properties so the town can proactively issue planned affordable-housing requests for proposals; design affordable housing structures that make new residents feel welcome and integrated with their respective communities; align its vision for affordable housing with groups dedicated to school capacity/tax base concerns. Organizers say they want to see Wellesley support “the true spirit of 40B,” which they say amounts to helping people and not being all about profits.
Pete Buhler, a spokesman for the group who is feeling squeezed by proposed 40B projects at 680 Worcester St. and 16 Stearns Rd. in his neighborhood, says, “One of the nice byproducts of being under the duress of 40B for a year is that the neighborhood has been able to convene and talk about affordable housing quite a bit… and it turns out we have some admirably passionate people that have looked past their own protective instincts and focused instead on the larger issues surrounding affordable housing in our town and how we can help everyone involved — future residents, current residents, the town and the state.”
Buhler and others directly affected by 40B proposals have been regulars during Citizen Speak portions of Planning and Selectmen meetings in town to make heard their concerns.
Affordable housing developments “should not be about terrorizing current residents and should be about respecting future residents and not treating them like chickens in chicken coops without yards when the rest of the neighborhood would have them,” he says. “My biggest concern is that when we don’t go out and make it happen like that and it happens to us, it’s done in the name of profit by developers who don’t have a real interest in our town.”
For their part, developers have said residents often have misconceptions about their intentions, and that their projects are a fit with goals outlined in the town’s Comprehensive Plan to boost affordable housing stock.
WELLESLEY HOUSING PRODUCTION PLAN IN THE WORKS
Buhler and others have been supportive of town efforts to create a Housing Production Plan that would give Wellesley more control over housing development here, though they want to see it much sooner than later, in part because they see town resources being drained handling current 40B proposals on a case by case basis. They describe the current situation as “a crisis.”
Residents acknowledge that getting to the state mandated 10% of housing stock being affordable won’t be easy for Wellesley, but they’re optimistic that having a formal plan in place will put the town on that path by showing the state that it is doing its best to hit key thresholds. This could grant Wellesley “safe harbor” needed to fend off 40B proposals it deems unfriendly.
Town officials regret that a Housing Production Plan isn’t already in place, but point to other efforts Wellesley has made to increase affordable housing availability (inclusionary zoning, for instance). They’re trying to highlight those accomplishments more in communications with the state.
Planning officials, which have indicated an interested in working with Our Affordable Wellesley, have encouraged residents to make their voices heard not just at Planning meetings, but also at Selectmen meetings.
There could soon be opportunities for residents to appeal to the state as well on 40B issues. Wellesley State Rep. Alice H. Peisch, who says several bills have been filed on the topic, ranging from the establishment of a commission to review 40B to bills that would make specific amendments (as of early this month, no hearings had yet been set on these).
AIMING FOR TOWNWIDE SUPPORT
While Our Affordable Wellesley’s formation has been sparked by events on and near Stearns Road, the idea is to involve residents across town, regardless of whether 40B projects are nearby.
The group’s mission is to:
*Educate residents on issues that surround affordable housing in Wellesley, such as planned vs. hostile 40Bs.
*Elevate issues of concern and achieve greater town consensus prior to town meetings and other meetings.
Buhler knows conversations won’t be easy.
“People have different opinions,” he says. “Some folks want to build a monstrous facility for affordable housing on the North 40 [off of Weston Road], some people would like to do it on the Tailby Lot [near Wellesley Square train station], and we understand and appreciate when that conversation comes up… it will be tough. And that’s where we’ll need to compromise.”
Buhler has seen other communities, such as Medfield, work up Housing Production Plans that have put them in a position of strength in responding to 40B proposals. He’s hopeful that Our Affordable Wellesley will be able to provide a model
Our Affordable Wellesley will make its presence felt in numerous ways, including online via a website and Facebook group, and via lawn signs, like the one shown above.
“We’re working under the assumption that all these entities, meaning the state, town, residents, future residents and friendly developers, could all be happy,” he says. “Right now they’re not.”
Jennifer Thomas-Starck says
Yes! This is the direction Wellesley needs to go as a town. Wellesley officials need to figure out the best way to add affordable housing to our community and aggressively pursue those options. We want Wellesley to be accessible and affordable in a way that maintains the culture of our neighborhoods.
Mary Smith says
Hello, I live in a 40b house on theCape. My neighbor’s have been rude since the day I moved in. There is one car garage, we have 2 vehicle’s. They made rule no park on street or open area. My husband parks in funeral home behind us. They have knocked on my door wanting to look in my sink, with no reason. I said no they can’t look in my sink?? They raised the condo fees in hopes we can’t afford to live here. 14houses where 4 are 40b.. They said any changes “in the house” needs to be approved? I pay my mortgage inside my business. Now they want to know who’s name is on the deed, how many people occupy the house and what is the name of the bank I have my mortgage and the loan numbers? Wth. Where do you draw the line? We keep our home in great condition and respect others privacy. They are angry we pay half condo fee. The neighbor and I had argument because she said you put your kids in camp. When I got new vvehicle from inheritance they all stared at me. When I took my kids to Maine they all talked about it like we should not have a life. I have suffered emotional distress from living here. I love my home put it comes with a price.
Uxbridge Homeowner says
We have lived in the same situation that you describe. Unfortunately, humans love to be hateful and judge other humans without the facts.
Dave P. says
Good job Pete. We appreciate you taking on this most important issue. However, I do disagree with you on a few points. Why do younger people need to live in Wellesley? Why do people who work for the town need to live in the town? I work in Boston. I wanted to raise a family in Boston, but the housing costs for a 3 or 4 bedroom are too high for me, so I moved to the suburbs. I live in a community that I can afford to live in and I commute to work, like 99% of the population. What is wrong with having to commute to work? Not sure I understand why people who work in Wellesley have to also live in Wellesley? Please explain that to me. And going back to the topic of young people – explain to me why young people have to live in Wellesley? First of all, define “young”? Then explain to me why someone who has not had the years to build up their career and build up their savings has the right to live in Wellesley? Or anywhere for that matter? If you aspire to live in any community, don’t you have to work to achieve that aspiration? Or in 2017 are we just saying that everyone has a right to live wherever they chose and it is up to the taxpayer to make that a reality for these folks? Again, please explain this to me. Lastly, why do empty nesters need to live in Wellesley? Why do the taxpayers have to provide housing for people who could afford to live in Wellesley to raise a family, but now suddenly cannot afford to live in Wellesley now that their kids have moved on? Wellesley is an expensive town to live in because the schools are excellent and it’s understood that families with young kids are the main demographic in Wellesley, which in turn attracts more families with young kids, which drives up the cost of housing. This is normal, free market dynamics at work. People who have raised families in Wellesley in houses, and now want to live in apartments, can move to Boston. Wellesley is for families, not empty nesters. And if empty nesters want to stay in the houses that they raised their kids in, then go for it! But why are the taxpayers responsible for providing apartments for these people? Again, please explain this to me.
I want to support your group, but right now I cannot see that happening until I better understand why I and other tax payers should be responsible for providing apartment style living for anyone and everyone that wants to live in Wellesley. Not only that, but why, as a taxpayer, am I going to fund some developers project that negatively impacts my community, but he gets to keep the profit??? This is crony capitalism. The people suffer while the well connected individual and his politician friends get the benefit.
Pete Buhler says
Dave P Reply
Thanks for the questions, Dave. I’m happy to help fill in some of the blanks. First, the mission of Our Affordable Wellesley fully aligns with your concerns about the negative impact these profit-driven developments bring to our neighborhoods. But we all need to address the problems and solutions in the context of the law: Chapter 40B in MA requires each town to have 10% of its available stock be affordable. (Wellesley is at 6.3%.) When a town is not in compliance, and does not have a certified Housing Production Plan (HPP), developers, backed by state-subsidized agencies, can propose these “apartment style” buildings on single-family lots that break the zoning laws you and I have to abide by. It’s a sad fact 8 Wellesley neighborhoods this year alone have learned the hard way. So the question isn’t whether we agree with affordable housing or its nuances. It’s whether we’d rather have affordable housing imposed on our town by outside, profit-driven forces or have the town and residents create it on our own terms. We believe the latter is the better choice.
Our point about diversity in our younger population is about diversity, not age. Like all school-centric towns, we have a natural attrition of young parents that buy houses from empty-nesters. But when the escalating cost of housing outpaces the growth of the state/nat’l economy for long stretches, the incoming (younger) generation pays a higher, relative price than the one before. Over time, if affluence becomes the predominant criteria for living in Wellesley, our population is likely to be less diverse.
With regard to town employees, we are incredibly fortunate to have so many talented, dedicated individuals delivering our quality life–from the schools to the Police/Fire Depts, to town hall and beyond. Even if we didn’t have that to be proud of, we’d still want Wellesley to be a community that represents professional diversity and rewards our most valued contributors. While some of our older residents fondly recall running into their teachers at Roche Bros., it seldom happens now. And since we are required by the state to create 3.7% more affordable housing anyway, we support dedicating some of it to key town employees whenever possible. This is also a policy of many neighboring towns.
Like Wellesley, most neighboring towns also include senior citizen housing as part of their planning initiatives. Many of our seniors make the transition from single family houses to condos or apartments with varying degrees of affordability. We believe that some of our mandated 10% affordable stock should be dedicated to them as well.
A positive note to add: Wellesley has just begun the process of developing an HPP. Once it is certified by the state, it will help protect the town from future hostile 40Bs as we continue working toward 10%.
Thanks again for the interest and I encourage you to join or just visit the OAW Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/groups/ouraffordablewellesley/ if you’d like to connect with other interested parties and follow the town’s efforts to achieve safe harbor and take control of our affordable future.
Thanks Pete. This is helpful. A few follow up thoughts….The following statement does not make sense – “Our point about diversity in our younger population is about diversity, not age.” Ok fine, I guess? But in your bullet points describing the mission of your organization you explicitly cite age, so maybe you should update and/or clarify those mission goals. But getting to the point — does anyone actually care about bumping into their teacher at Roche Brothers? I mean really. If this is what “diversity” means, then count me out. Nothing against teachers (both my parents were school teachers for 30 years), but I’m just not sure why bumping into them on the streets of town when you are out and about on Saturday is necessary. In other words, what does diversity actually do? Why do we need it? There are a ton of very diverse communities right near by. If diversity is so important to someone they should buy a house in Waltham… Wellesley is expensive. It’s expensive because everyone wants to live here. It’s close to Boston, has great schools and has great neighborhoods that are perfect for raising families. It checks all the boxes. Except for the “diversity” box apparently. Ok, well you cannot have it all in this life – can you? People want to live in Wellesley, but apparently they also want Waltham quality diversity. Sorry, but this is what life is all about – having to make choices when you simply can’t have it all, right?
And believe me, I’m all for town employees getting to live in town. But again, why are we talking about destroying these quaint little neighborhoods, where kids ride bikes and play basketball in the street, so that town employees can walk to work? Again, nothing to do with town employees — they are all great — it’s more about this idea that any town, Wellesley or otherwise, needs to provide subsidized housing for anyone at the expense of the current residents. That includes senior citizens. Wellesley is for families. People want to live here because of the schools. I just can’t see why current residents are supposed to be behind a plan that destroys neighborhoods so senior citizens can live in Wellesley. Why is housing for senior citizens necessary?
Overall, it just does not seem fair to residents. I think the politicians and the developers are taking advantage of folks. And they are doing it by hiding behind this “diversity” argument, which quite frankly really does not add up. Again, plenty of diversity out there – if you want it that badly just move to somewhere that has it. It should not be forced on communities.
All that said, I happen to agree with you that Wellesley needs to be prepared to fight off these hostile developments and clearly, since the politicians have made this ridiculous law, we have no choice but to put this HPP into place. Sadly, that seems like the only option right now. One suggestion howerver – rather than destroy six or eight neighborhoods, pick one spot in Wellesley, hopefully on Route 9 or somewhere else where it will have the lowest impact on the current neighborhood, and build a 100% affordable project that will get us to 10%. Even if it has to be a 200 unit behemoth, that would be better than building six or seven, 30 unit monstrosities all over town.
Lastly, let me be clear, I do appreciate you taking on this challenge. I wish you luck and hope that the HPP results in as little negative impact as possible.