Broken process drives up building costs: Meet Andrew


My name is Andrew DeFranza. I’m the executive director of Harborlight Community Partners, an affordable housing developer on the North Shore.

Our region consists of 22 communities, most of which are affluent and in high demand as places to live. Workers who live here have access to jobs along the Route 128 corridor, as well as cities like Beverly, Boston, Salem, Lynn and Peabody.

Seniors, working families, and people with disabilities live in our housing. There is a desperate need for affordable homes in our region, but restrictive zoning, frivolous lawsuits, and opposition from homeowners prevent us from addressing the need. It takes an unnecessary number of years, staff and money to complete just one project, which means that each unit is more expensive and we produce a smaller number of them. In the end, fewer families find homes, and oftentimes the people who are most hurt are long-time residents of our towns.

The residents of affordable housing are members of our community. One example is Kate Desmond, a Harborlight resident and one of my board members, who has been a local nurse for decades caring for frail, fixed income seniors.

Another is Rachel Lopez, who heads up a two parent household with three boys. She and her husband moved to the North Shore in pursuit of educational opportunities for their sons. She worked for Brigham and Women’s Hospital and then the local hospice. She sent me a picture of her oldest son in his uniform now serving in the US Army and on a path to accomplish his dream to become a firefighter. His two brothers are also doing well in school and she herself is enrolled in graduate school.

When I look at good development sites in many of our North Shore communities, I see the basics that developers need. The road infrastructure and water supply are present. Our developments are at the scale where we can provide a common waste water treatment and effective storm water drainage. But in most of our communities, multifamily housing is either not allowed or very limited.

The irony is that the local officials I deal with want to collaborate on building multifamily housing in their community. They understand that their community would be stronger if it had more economic and social diversity along with housing choices for seniors and young families. They are often embarrassed when one of their constituents makes a prejudiced remark about residents of “affordable housing.” But like me, these officials are caught in a system that is broken.

We can do better. That is why we need state zoning reform to encourage more multifamily housing, reduce court battles, and prevent housing discrimination. Better state rules, including setting some basic standards to ensure fairness, would be welcomed by many local officials--easily the majority I deal with--that want to do the right thing. Not only would we take some of the nasty politics out of development, I believe we will see fewer developers looking to use 40B as a recourse. The dysfunctional status quo in many cases almost necessitates the use of 40B to deal with outdated or exclusionary zoning and permitting rules.

I truly hope that the Legislature will pass a Great Neighborhoods bill this session to provide our communities the relief that we need to build more housing in sensible locations.

Thank you for reading and sharing my story.

Andrew DeFranza

Executive Director, Harborlight Community Partners


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