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I was on vacation last week so I apologize for coming to this late. But the story in last week’s TAB headlined “Mayor Setti Warren defends record on Newton affordable” seems worth noting for different reasons.

First, the article begins by saying “Mayor Setti Warren is firing back at critics of his affordable housing strategy” and refers to the mayor explaining his views “in interviews with the TAB over the last week.”

But the article itself has exactly one quote from the mayor and it hardly feels fiery…

“I’m extremely proud of this administration’s effort to ensure we have quality affordable housing that’s cost effective,” said Warren. “I’m looking forward to the creation of affordable housing in the next four years under my administration that’s effective and that’s done right.”

More significant is the remaining 3/4th of the article which focuses on defending the Warren administration for requiring competitive bidding for affordable housing projects …

The policy requires nonprofits seeking more than $25,000 in federal, state and local funding to solicit competitive sealed bids from contractors. They must select the lowest “responsible and responsive” bidder to conduct the work. For projects more than $3,000 but less than $25,000, organizations must seek at least three written quotes. Procurements under $3,000 can be made using “sound business practices.”

To understand exactly why some housing advocates are unhappy with the new policy, you have to go back one week further to this July 31 article on the subject

… some say the mayor’s actions have actual stifled chances to accommodate residents being pushed out by high property values. They point to changes by his administration that require any developer seeking city allocated federal funds for affordable housing to go through the same public bidding process the city has to — a hurdle not required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides the funds.

Washington Street-based CAN-DO is the only affordable-housing developer to receive federal fund from the city since Warren took office. Executive Director Josephine McNeil said the nonprofit has a hard enough time building affordable units in Newton without the extra burdens put in place by the Warren administration.

In that same article, alderman and mayoral candidate Ted Hess Mahan  had this to say about what he calls these “much more restrictive practices” that the Mayor Warren has put in place in “order to look good rather than to do good.”

Going through the public bidding process requires submitted documents to be airtight and come with the added cost of lawyer and architectural fees, Hess-Mahan said. Because of the extra costs expended there, developers often have having to make up the difference by selecting a low bidder that can’t perform the contract and either walks away or does a poor job.

Now in the real world, I think most smart folks know that when they’re about to make an expensive purchase or hire a contractor, it’s wise to get a few “airtight” quotes, even if they don’t always select the lowest bidder. So I’m having a hard time understanding why this is even controversial. But maybe I’m missing something. Any one care to explain?

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