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Fall River recognized for housing practices, eligible for grants



Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

HAVERHILL – Today, Governor Charlie Baker joined Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini, Representative Linda Dean Campbell, Representative Christina Minicucci, Representative Lenny Mirra, Representative Andres Vargas and other local leaders to highlight An Act to Promote Housing Choices, legislation filed by Governor Baker in February that calls for targeted zoning reform to advance new housing production in Massachusetts and support the administration’s goal to produce 135,000 new housing units by 2025.

Representative Campbell, Representative Minicucci, Representative Mirra, Representative Vargas, Karen Sawyer Conard, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, Dave Traggorth, President of Traggorth Companies, and Eric Chinburg, President of Chinburg Properties, joined Mayor Fiorentini in endorsing the legislation in the lead up to the May 14th Joint Committee on Housing hearing.

During today’s event, Governor Baker also announced the designation of Haverhill and nine other municipalities as Housing Choice Communities. These ten communities join the 69 Housing Choice Communities designated in 2018. Launched in December 2017 as part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Housing Choice Initiative, this designation recognizes communities that adopt best practices for boosting housing production by making them eligible for competitive capital grants. The Administration has awarded $4 million to 19 communities through the Housing Choice Capital Grant Program.

“Housing Choice grants reward and encourage municipalities’ efforts to increase housing production and exemplify the support we believe is critical to empowering community development,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We congratulate today’s designees for their commitment to delivering important housing for residents and look forward to building on this progress by working together with the Legislature to pass our Housing Choice legislation.”

“Governor Baker and I recognize that far too many families, workers and employers are limited by the lack affordable, adequate housing in their communities,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are proud of the $1 billion our administration has invested into affordable housing programs like the Housing Development Incentive Program to advance thousands of market-rate units, and we look forward to continuing to prioritize housing at this crucial juncture.”

Haverhill earned this designation for producing more than 800 new housing units over the last five years, successfully leveraging state resources such as the Housing Development Incentive Program to drive the conversion of former mills into transit-oriented, mixed-use developments and promote a variety of housing and commercial activity. The pending Housing Choice bill would make it easier for the city to continue pursuing such projects.

In addition to Haverhill, today’s newly designated communities include: Ayer, Burlington, Dracut, Fall River, Franklin, Hingham, Newton, Westwood, and Wrentham. Since 2014, these municipalities have collectively produced more than 5,800 new units of housing.

The legislative proposal will enable cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices related to housing production by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. While this legislation will lower the voting threshold to change zoning for all communities in the Commonwealth, it does not require cities and towns to make any of these changes. With the proposed simple majority threshold, municipalities that pursue rezoning efforts including those enabling transit-oriented or downtown-oriented new housing, would gain approval if they achieve more than 50% of the vote, as opposed to the current super majority of more than 66%. Massachusetts is currently one of only a few states to require a supermajority to change local zoning.

Zoning changes that promote best practices for housing growth that would qualify for the simple majority threshold include:

Building mixed-use, multi-family, and starter homes, and adopting 40R “Smart Growth” zoning in town centers and near transit.

Allowing the development of accessory dwelling units, or “in-law” apartments.

Approving Smart Growth or Starter Homes districts that put housing near existing activity centers.
Granting increased density through a special permit process.

Allowing for the transfer of development rights and enacting natural resource protection zoning.

Reducing parking requirements and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes.

This legislation also includes a provision, added by the Joint Committee on Housing last session, that would reduce the voting threshold for a special permit issued by a local permit granting authority to a simple majority vote, for certain multi-family or mixed-use projects with at least 10% affordable units in locations near transit or, in centers of commercial activity within a municipality.

“Massachusetts is home to the country’s best-educated workforce, but also its most expensive housing,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “Our Housing Choice legislation would empower the production necessary to reduce housing costs, delivering relief to families while helping retain talent and securing economic growth. We look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature to make sure it passes this session.”

The legislation is part of the administration’s Housing Choice Initiative, which provides incentives, technical assistance, and capital grant funding to encourage new housing production that meets the long-term needs of the Commonwealth’s growing, and aging, population.

“Our families, seniors, workforce, individuals with disabilities, and vulnerable populations have diverse housing needs, and today’s market is not meeting them. Housing that our residents can afford is a crucial resource and An Act to Promote Housing Choices will create the tools we need to promote new housing development for those across incomes,” said Acting Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Jennifer Maddox. “We are proud of the coalition we’ve built in support of this legislation and the investments we’ve made in affordable housing, community development, and public housing to benefit the many communities which contribute to our strong, inclusive Commonwealth.”

“I’m grateful that Governor Baker is coming to Haverhill to showcase his key housing legislation, which I strongly endorse,” said Mayor of Haverhill James J. Fiorentini. “This legislation, aptly called the Housing Choice Initiative, will give our city options to control our own destiny. It fits perfectly with our ongoing Master Plan process and will help us as we decide where we want residential growth and what kind of residential growth we want. Most importantly, it will give us new tools to develop housing that middle class families can actually afford.”

“Governor Baker’s Housing Choice legislation provides a much clearer path to create dense urban housing and to preserve existing structures like the Ellis Factory Lofts. It will increase housing options and density, reduce dimensional requirements, and decreases costs, which all helps to make more affordable projects,” said Eric Chinburg, President of Chinburg Properties. “We are really pleased to have completed this renovation and to breathe new life into an iconic, historic factory building. Attracting new residents and businesses to downtown Haverhill supports a vibrant place to live, work and play. Haverhill has been very supportive during this complex project and we congratulate Mayor Fiorentini and his staff staff on their approach to encourage varied housing options in the downtown core, where residents can walk to restaurant, shops and public transportation.”

“The Housing Choice Initiative legislation is an important step in the development of more affordable housing across the Commonwealth,” said Lisa B. Alberghini, President of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. “We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and we need to increase affordable housing opportunities to ensure the continued creation of strong, diverse and healthy communities. The Housing Choice Initiative is a significant tool in the effort to address this need.”

“We have been successful in Haverhill because Mayor Fiorentini has proven that housing is key to economic development, and because Governor Baker has given us the tools like the Housing Development Incentive Tax Credit and the State Historic Tax Credit to help make it happen,” said Dave Traggorth, President of Traggorth Companies. “We support the Housing Choice legislation so that we can scale up the success we’ve had both within Haverhill, and in other cities and towns eager to see the same incredible results.”

“As one of 13 Regional Planning Agencies in the Commonwealth, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission is proud to support the Baker-Polito Administration’s efforts with the Housing Choice Initiative,” said Karen Sawyer Conard, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission. “Home to seven Housing Choice Community Designations and three Community Grant and Small Town Grant Awards to enhance water infrastructure needs and improve open space amenities for residents, our region is taking full advantage of this innovative program. Our communities will look to coordinate the benefits of the Housing Choice Initiative with our newly developed Regional Housing Plan to help plan for the development and preservation of housing units to meet the needs of all residents today and in the future.”

“Its designation as a Housing Choice Community is a testament to the City of Haverhill’s commitment to bolstering housing production and supporting a growing workforce that can proudly call this great city home,” said Senator Diana DiZoglio. “I am pleased to see these efforts recognized and look forward to working alongside the City of Haverhill and communities across the Merrimack Valley to ensure all working families have sufficient access to affordable housing.”

“Zoning reform is key to addressing our housing crisis and ensuring that every community does their best to meet the housing demand in Massachusetts,” said Representative Andres Vargas. “I appreciate the Governor taking the time to visit Haverhill, as we continue to make progress on housing affordability.”

“We must continue to find innovative solutions to address the housing crisis, especially given our aging population,” said Representative Linda Dean Campbell. “Haverhill’s designation as a Housing Choice Community will give the City greater access to funding to further its innovative efforts on this issue. I look forward to working with Governor Baker and my colleagues on the state level to make it easier for our communities to adopt the housing solutions that work best for them.”

“Massachusetts has enjoyed a very robust economy with strong job growth,” said Representative Lenny Mirra. “In order to see this continue, the Commonwealth will need a large increase in housing production and the Governor’s plans will go a long way in making this happen.”

The Baker-Polito Administration has shown a deep commitment to increasing the production of housing across income levels. Since 2015, the administration has invested more than $1 billion in affordable housing, resulting in the production and preservation of more than 17,000 housing units, including 15,000 affordable units. In 2018, Governor Baker signed the largest housing bond bill in Massachusetts history, committing more than $1.8 billion to the future of affordable housing production and preservation. The Baker-Polito Administration has also advanced the development of more than 11,000 mixed-income housing units through the successful MassWorks Infrastructure Program, reformed the Housing Development Incentive Program, and worked with communities to implement smart-growth development and planning efforts.

2019 Housing Choice Community Designations:

· Town of Ayer

· Town of Burlington

· Town of Dracut

· City of Fall River

· Town of Franklin

· City of Haverhill

· Town of Hingham

· City of Newton

· Town of Westwood

· Town of Wrentham

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