Repeat After Me: “Four Tea Bee”

It would be outrageously inappropriate to be enthusiastic about a disease, especially a disease that kills more than a million people a year — so when you hear the phrase “for TB,” it’s not because someone prefers tuberculosis to COVID-19.

And since Tom Brady defected from the glorious New England Patriots dynasty to the losingest team in the history of the NFL, if you hear the phrase “for TB” here in Massachusetts, it better not be someone admitting that they’re still rooting for that aged turncoat pretty-boy huckster quarterback. Some New Englanders may actually be “for TB,” but who would risk a pummeling in a sports bar by saying so out loud?

No, if you hear the phrase “for TB” here in Ipswich, you’re hearing it wrong. It’s not “for TB”; it’s “40B.” It’s almost certainly a reference to the controversial Massachusetts state law mandating each town to offer at least 10% of its real estate as “affordable” housing. Affordable housing is an issue almost as complicated and contentious as the pandemic or the Patriots.

On top of which, 40B is a clumsy law. In a town that hasn’t met the 10% threshold, 40B developers can designate 20% to 25% of their units as “affordable” and get around a town’s zoning regulations. This means they can erect massive developments in otherwise quaint, charming New England locales. (Think “Bruni World” on 133.)

40B, then, is a subject better left alone by any sensible columnist.

So let’s dig in.

Ipswich can’t avoid this touchy subject at the moment, because it’s on the Warrant at our upcoming Town Meeting. Why? Because Ipswich set up an “escape hatch” some time ago: A developer who doesn’t want to set aside 10% of their project as “affordable” can give the Town of Ipswich a chunk of money instead — money that goes into something called the Affordable Housing Fund. What happens to this money, and who decides where it goes, or when, who knows?

We’re making progress toward the 40B goal, of course. When I first arrived in Ipswich, more than a decade ago, our Town leaders were assuring us, “We’re almost there.” And hey, I just realized this: I can actually track our Town’s progress on 40B by reviewing our Town leaders’ assessment over the course of each year I’ve been here:

  • Year 1: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 2: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 3: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 4: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 5: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 6: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 7: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 8: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 9: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 10: “We’re almost there.”

This is heartening. We’re a 386-year-old town. We clearly value consistency.

On the other hand, it would be disturbing to imagine that Ipswich is actually trying to keep low-income people out. So, yeah, maybe we need to finally get past “almost there” and get “there.”

40B may be a blunt instrument, but the goal is worthwhile: The goal is making a place for people with low incomes. When we get to 10% affordable housing, we won’t have to let Godzilla developers plunk down massive Soviet-style developments in the heart of our historic town. We’ll be able to provide affordable housing for those who need it, and welcome them with open arms. The way we’ve welcomed the Polish, the French, the “outsidahs,” down through the years. Not to mention, in recent years, the refugees, the Ghanaians, the Somalis, the doesn’t matter where you’re froms.

So when our socially distanced Town Meeting happens on Saturday, October 17th, at 9 a.m., we can vote against the “payment in lieu” loophole — by voting YES on the citizens’ petition, Article 18.

Of course, if you really do want to keep low-income people out of town — if you really do  want to let developers pay to keep low-income people out of town — if you really do  want to keep saying “We’re almost there,” but in reality, we’re okay with keeping our affordable housing inventory below 10% — yeah, go ahead and vote no.

Which, I guess, would be sort of like voting for TB.


Doug Brendel responds to his readers, both those who agree and those who disagree, on Instagram @DougBrendelIpswich and on Facebook via Facebook.com/DougBrendel.


This helpful letter appeared in the Ipswich Local News to answer the question about the Affordable Housing Fund.

One thought on “Repeat After Me: “Four Tea Bee”

  1. Thanks for writing this Doug. Although “affordable” can mean many things, and it often does not assist truly low-income people, it’s certainly better than nothing, which is what Ipswich seems to do best. Glad someone had the guts to say so! Of course, now that I no longer live “out there” in Ipswich, some might consider me a real Outsidah and react to my even commenting. These ginormous developments with their oversized, non-environmentally friendly houses do nothing to enchance the “culture” of Ipswich nor does the rolling over and playing dead for 40B developers make Ipswich a better place to live.

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