It's housing all right, and it sure is affordable - at least to those who are living there.
But to housing advocates, there's something amiss and even a tad offensive about a bill sponsored by Representative John H. Rogers, the House's chief budget writer.
Rogers wants jail and prison inmates counted as low-income housing units for a range of purposes, including qualifying host towns and cities for state grants and bolstering them against challenges to zoning rulings on affordable housing.
Housing activists, however, say the idea is misguided and could harm efforts to expand housing for low- and moderate-income residents in Massachusetts.
''It certainly feels dodgy,'' said Ellen Ober, a leader with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. ''It just doesn't sit well. It devalues the efforts and integrity of the towns that have enacted affordable housing.''
The Housing and Urban Development Committee will take up Rogers' bill today, along with a raft of other proposals regarding the state's anti-snob zoning regulations. Rogers did not return calls for comment.
An aide said that Rogers, a Norwood Democrat, filed the bill at the urging of his constituents in neighboring Walpole. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that many residents want Walpole to qualify for state housing grants and benefits to help ease the burden of MCI-Cedar Junction, the maximum-security prison in town.
Cities and towns that have correction facilities could gain substantially by including those inmates in affordable-housing tallies, said Marc Draisen, president of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations.
Adding prisoners to the count would boost a community's ability to get state grants and loans. It would also make it tougher to challenge how a community complies with Chapter 40B, the anti-snob zoning law that requires cities and towns to have an appropriate percentage of lower-priced residences.
If the proposal passes, Chapter 40B would be almost impossible to enforce in some towns, Draisen said. That's because local decisions on where to build lower-priced housing can be challenged only if a community's affordable-housing stock is less than 10 percent of its total.
A town such as Walpole would easily exceed that threshold if prison cells were included in the count, Draisen said.
''Towns are always trying to get up over the 10 percent so that they don't have to build affordable housing,'' he said. ''Inmates are not people who could receive assistance from affordable-housing programs. It's not relevant that they're low-income and that they live in the town. They already have the housing that they're going to get.''
In addition, the bill could dampen new construction of lower-priced homes in some communities by creating the illusion that they already have enough, Ober said.
Senate housing chairman Steven C. Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat, said that cities and towns with prisons already receive compensation from the state, and shouldn't look for more money by manipulating their housing statistics, he said.
''To equate prison cells to affordable housing units is wrong,'' he said.
Representative Alice K. Wolf, a Cambridge Democrat who serves on the housing committee, said that she'll keep a skeptical eye on any proposals to change the anti-snob zoning law.
''In general, Chapter 40B is a very important vehicle that the Commonwealth has for ensuring that some affordable housing is built - and, more than that, that it be spread around,'' she said.
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