By Maria Zaroulis
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk around town regarding a proposed 40B housing development. There are numerous valid concerns surrounding this hot topic. Overbuilding in town? Perhaps. Wanting to preserve our beautiful green space? Absolutely, I’m a card-carrying tree hugger! Can our roads and resources handle it? I’m not convinced, yet.
However, there is one concern that has me a bit confused. And that is the constant stigma about 40B housing. I have heard over and over from residents, stating they don’t want “it.” What do they mean by “it”? Often, that they don’t want “Those People” living in their quiet, suburban oasis.
Who are “Those People,” and what does 40B mean, exactly?
Massachusetts 40B housing is a state-run program through The Department of Housing and Community Development. It is not Section 8. It is not subsidized housing. Let me explain to you what 40B is, and who it is meant for.
It is a program for working people and families who fall within a very specific income bracket. And in case some of you were unaware, there is a serious housing crisis happening right now in Eastern Massachusetts. I don’t need to tell most of you about the skyrocketing real estate prices in town. In Tewksbury, there is also a shortage of apartments, and those that are available are typically “luxury style” units renting at $2,000 per month, or more.
To qualify for the 40B housing program, you must fill out a very long and in-depth application. You must provide years’ worth of tax documentation to support your claim. You must wait for approval, and then fill out more paperwork. Once approved (if you’re approved), you are then placed on a waiting list that could be months or years long.
Let’s get back to “Those People” for a moment. They are typically working, single parents who cannot find adequate and affordable housing for their family. They are also, sometimes, women who have fled domestic violence and abusive relationships.
I am an elected official in my town. I serve my community, along with communities in surrounding towns. I work in Human Services, and we are not known for making the big bucks. I am also one of “Those People” that I have heard my neighbors refer to. And it makes me cringe every time.
The process of applying for a 40B apartment is frustrating, stressful and sometimes humiliating. Am I not deserving of a safe and affordable place to live? Am I somehow a threat to you and your neighborhood? Do you think a person who just came off a 16-hour shift working with an underserved population wants to come through the woods and cause anarchy on your street? I highly doubt it.
To hear this “we don’t want it” statement over and over again is gravely disturbing. I find it insulting, and I’m appalled at people’s ignorance. If it weren’t for the 40B housing program, I would still be displaced after almost a year. And if you don’t know what that means, it’s a polite way of saying homeless. I am grateful every single day for the 40B program. And so are all the women who require a secure building so their abusers can’t get to them easily. And the single mothers, or fathers, who work hard at jobs that may not pay those big bucks but who want their children to be in a good school system, in a nice town.
My opinion is that there is not enough affordable, quality housing. There are not enough 40B units available, especially in a timely manner, to meet the great need. This is a human rights issue. This is a public health issue. And my hope is that people learn something, and can step out of their bubbles of entitlement. Nobody asks to be in a situation where they can’t find a place to live. Nobody. And everybody is one life event away from finding themselves in the same situation.
Maria Zaroulis is a member of the Tewksbury Board of Health and a resident who is able to stay in her community because of the Mass. Chapter 40B program.