Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chapter 40B Housing

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, January 26th, 2008.

For years now Norton town officials have been at the forefront of the fight to change Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law.

They tried going to the legislature, rallying other communities, and even pressed their case in court. In the end, they achieved relief from the tough law the old-fashioned way:

They earned it.

For those unfamiliar, Chapter 40B exempts builders from local planning and zoning laws if they build housing with at least 25-percent classified as affordable. The rest can be sold or rented at market prices. But these rules only apply in communities where less than 10-percent of all housing is affordable.

Barring a late appeal, Norton will achieve the magical 10-percent threshold when the 176-unit Turtle Crossing apartment development is built.

That means developers will no longer be able to come to Norton and put too many homes on too little land to make too much money while helping not enough people. That is, until the building of new homes puts the town back under 10-percent.

It would be nice to think Norton achieved this goal out of a real desire to help its citizens live affordably. But the truth is Norton has greatly increased its level of affordable housing because of Chapter 40B, not despite it.

In other words, the bottom line is – this law works.

The very phrase “affordable housing” causes tremors throughout most local communities. It is often confused with “low-income housing”, when in fact they are two very different things.

Low-income housing is government subsidized housing intended for the poorer people in our society. Far too often it creates “projects” where people who either cannot get jobs or refuse to do so are housed.

There are sociological and racial overtones to low-income housing, both in real life and in the minds of much of the citizenry. Fair or unfair, true or false, the perceptions are at least as strong as the realities.

But affordable housing merely is an attempt to allow some relief for the mythical middle class. In many local towns, our children move out because they cannot afford to live in the communities where they grew up.

Affordable housing means they can purchase or rent at prices below the existing market. This is not intended as a hand-out, but rather a start. It is meant to create opportunities, not projects.

But developers cannot and should not be asked to create these opportunities out of the goodness of their hearts. While often pictured as greedy and soulless businesspeople – sometimes accurately – the fact is they have families to support too. They are in business to make money.

Communities often increase the minimum lot size to build a home within their borders to as much as two acres. Then when the developer builds a million dollar home to offset the increased land cost, they bemoan the effect it has on the tax rate and property values.

You can’t have it both ways.

Chapter 40B is despised by most area towns because it takes away their control. There are most definitely parts of the law that are unfair and distasteful.

But towns that have worked hard and made sure they have at least 10-percent affordable housing are exempt. Chapter 40B is a law they can avoid simply by doing what the law was intended to do – create affordable housing.

Almost everyone is in favor of affordable housing. But most don’t want to see it in their neighborhood. They always seem to think there is a “better place” for it.

Norton is no different. Many of the 40B developments in town have faced fierce opposition, almost all of it from the neighborhood where it was planned. Selectmen, zoning and planning board members and other officials have faced tremendous pressure and criticism.

But Norton didn’t just complain – it complied. The town worked with developers in an example of the public/private partnerships Chapter 40B was meant to create.

What this achieved is a better town, with more affordable housing, that has now regained control over development.

Not a bad result for a law no one seems to like.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a life-long resident of Norton. He can be reached at

Monday, January 7, 2008

Great Time for New England Sports

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, January 5th, 2008.

As I sat in Giants Stadium last Saturday night with my son, I made sure to imprint the sights and sounds of this game in my mind forever.

After all, how often do you get to witness perfection up close?

I was a part of history last weekend as I sat high in the New Jersey night air, watching the New England Patriots complete the first ever 16-0 undefeated season in NFL history. It marks the first undefeated regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Those Dolphins won their 14 regular season games and then swept three in the playoffs. To match that incredible feat the Pats will have to win their three playoff games, starting next weekend in Foxboro.

You have read about this amazing season from virtually everyone and every viewpoint by now. Every sportswriter and sportscaster in the country has weighed in on the Pats and their chances to join the Dolphins in immortality.

So please allow me to add another viewpoint – that of a lifelong Patriot fan, a season ticket-holder for 34 years, and someone who has brought his sons up to be certifiable sports fanatics.

In general, we Boston sports fans are a spoiled bunch right now. We have gotten used to success, and not just in one sport.

When I was growing up in the 60’s, the Celtics won the NBA Championship virtually every year. We took those great teams for granted. It was easy to be blasé about the greatness we were witnessing.

Today, the Red Sox have won two World Series titles in four years, after an 86 year drought. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the last six years, and are favored to win yet another. They are on their way to what could be a perfect championship season.

I was going to Fenway Park when the Red Sox couldn’t get out of the bottom half of the league. I actually attended Patriot games at Fenway, and then spent the better part of three decades sitting on those ice-cold aluminum benches in the old Schaeffer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium watching some of the worst football the league has ever seen.

I tell you that not to sound old, but to illustrate why I am so appreciative of the situation we fans find ourselves in today.

The younger generation of Boston sports fans think we have a championship parade every two or three years at least. They go to a football stadium that is state-of-the-art in every way. They watch as their teams are in contention for the championship virtually every season.

It is not always like this, folks.

We are in the Golden Age of New England sports history. We are witnessing it first-hand. We are actually watching things take place that will be talked about by generations of sports fans who follow us.

We need to be aware of the history unfolding, and appreciate it while it is happening.

It is quite possible what is going on right now may never again occur in our lifetime. The stars have aligned, both on the playing fields and in the sky. This is a solar eclipse, followed by a lunar eclipse, followed by Haley’s Comet, followed by the Republicans controlling the Massachusetts Legislature. This is a totally unusual place in time.

So don’t just enjoy it, fellow sports fans – immerse yourselves in it. Go overboard, jump in with both feet, and totally commit yourselves to the great teams we have to enjoy these days.

Take your kids to ballgames or watch with them and explain what it is they are seeing. They may not get the full impact now, but later on they will tell their kids how they watched the great undefeated Patriot team of 2007. They will look back upon this time with a fondness only experience can bring.

Right now, the Patriots are perfect. And today is the perfect time for us all to make sure we fully experience and live the history unfolding all around us.

Bill Gouveia, who has never been accused of perfection, is a local columnist who can be reached at

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Appreciating Freedom

This column appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, December 29th, 2007.

As we head into 2008, there is something happening that scares me.

No, I’m not talking about the Yankees possibly signing Santana, or Rosie O’Donnell getting another show of her own. I’m talking about the truly scary stuff – like what today’s younger generation is prepared to sacrifice in the name of safety and security.

Increasingly the current administration in Washington has told us we need to sacrifice our individual liberties to ensure our collective security. We must be willing to forgo protections built into our system for the innocent in order to catch and prosecute the guilty.

We are told we must keep the Patriot Act, under which the government can investigate and detain just about anyone for just about any reason. We must accept that our library records may be studied by the government without our knowledge or consent.

There are an increasing number of surveillance cameras in our local school buildings. Police dogs are brought in to search local school lockers just to let the kids know it can happen. Breathalyzers are used indiscriminately at proms.

And yet, there is no great outrage among the younger generation – or the older ones, for that matter.

In this post September 11th world, we have come to accept these things as necessary to provide for our safety and security. Like longer lines at the airport, they are just things we seem to feel we must endure.

But I worry every day, not about what our government is doing to us, but rather what we are allowing it to do. I worry about a growing generation seemingly out of touch with the true meaning of freedom.

Freedom is not the right to live safely or securely. Freedom is the right to live as you choose.

While we all must conform to the basic laws of society in order to function, America has always been the Land of the Free. We are not the Home of the Safe, The Land of the Efficient, or the Home of the Financially Responsible.

The government does not – or at least did not – track our whereabouts at all times. Unlike other countries we have no state-sponsored religion. Morality is something to be interpreted here, where in other countries it is simply enforced.

Keeping track of our enemies, as well as those we think could become our enemies, is much tougher here than in the rest of the world. That damn concept of “freedom” keeps getting in the way.

Now, I am not naïve enough to believe things don’t have to change as the world around us changes. Security is certainly a necessity. Freedom is great, but a free individual who is murdered does not get to enjoy it for long.

Still, I worry about what our younger generation locally believes is their role in this world of ours today.

I know when I was growing up, we questioned everything. We not only pushed existing beliefs in areas such as science, we also questioned the rules surrounding us as a nation.

Maybe I’m just getting old and crabby, but I see less of that today. I see young adults who think it is no big deal for the government to check their library records. After all, if you have nothing to hide, why should it bother you, right?

Wrong. It should bother you, it should make you angry, and it should scare the living you-know-what out of you.

You can call all this the wild rantings of an aging liberal (as my kids do), but I disagree. If we have gotten to the point where defending freedom and liberty is a political position, we are already in more trouble than we think.

In 1776 Benjamin Franklin told the Continental Congress “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty or security.”

Old Ben was right on the mark then, and remains correct today. I’m just hoping today’s younger generation pays him more heed than the older ones are currently doing.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who, contrary to popular belief, did not know Benjamin Franklin personally. He can be reached at