Easton’s Affordable Housing Plan Submitted to the State
State approval gives the town the right to turn down 40Bs
Easton’s revised affordable housing plan, finished last month, has a slue of interesting facts about the town, including population trends, changes in housing prices, and a list of affordable housing in town.
But probably most significant is that it includes a systematic way to slowly provide more affordable housing in town in the next five years. If approved by the state, the plan will continue to give the town protection against unwanted 40Bs, which are projects that aren’t required to comply with local zoning laws because at least 20 percent of their units are considered affordable.
“If you have a plan in place and you’re making significant progress towards that percentage, then when affordable housing projects come through, the town can be in a position to say no,” said Tim Harrigan, the town’s community housing planner.
Though some 40Bs are welcomed in town, others are feared because they are too large, or could threaten the character of the town. Some problems include traffic, negative environmental impact, and infringing on the town’s historical character, Harrigan said.
Right now, just over 3 percent of Easton’s housing stock is considered to be affordable. Though this is a far cry from the state mandate of 10 percent, towns that have certified housing plans are allowed to develop at a slower pace, by having the power to reject affordable housing projects that come through under comprehensive permits.
The town’s original plan was submitted to the state in 2005, and approved shortly afterwards. The town did not receive protection against 40B projects, however, until it moved forward with its affordable housing plan. This step was met last spring, when Town Meeting approved funding for a 40B at the former Ames Shovel Works factory. The project, due to break ground by the end of the year, will provide 119 mixed-income apartments, and although only 20 percent are affordable, all 119 units go towards the town’s affordable housing count because they are rentals.
In 2005, the town planned on having 363 new housing units, but because of the economic recession, only 16 of those units were built. The town now plans to increase its affordable housing stock by 38 – 41 units each year, in order to meet minimum state requirements of increasing affordable housing stock by .5 percent each year.
There have been seven 40Bs approved by Easton’s zoning board of appeals, but only one has been built – a single-family house development off of Kevin’s Way, which has 19 out of 76 affordable units. Two other 40Bs moving forward are the Shovel Shops project, and Winterberry Estates – a single-family house development off of Union Street, which includes 44 homes. Others are delayed or are not being built.
Besides the 40Bs, more affordable housing is planned at Queset Commons, at the corner of Belmont and Washington streets, to be built by Douglas King. The complex plans include 60 condominiums, 80 assisted living units, and 150 apartments. The project would add 161 units to Easton’s affordable housing stock, and it is considered to be a “smart-growth” alternative to a 40B complex.
In 2007, Town Meeting approved a zoning overlay to build the complex, allowing more density than usual through Easton’s zoning laws. The project has been delayed, however, because of the poor housing market.
The affordable housing plan is overseen by the town’s Housing Affordable Trust Board, a committee of six people. The committee is now working with a budget of more than $500,000, from Community Preservation Act funds, which will be used to implement the plan.
The committee goals include converting existing homes to permanently affordable units, matching residents to housing assistance, providing financial help to homeowners to help them stay in their homes, and promoting more affordable housing construction.
Chairwoman Donna Bonia said she joined the committee because she was concerned that people who grew up in the area could no longer afford to live here.
“There are people whose grandparents and great grandparents have lived here, and they can no longer afford to stay here,” she said.
She added that some town residents have a misconception of what affordable housing is, envisioning large ill-kept tenements, and no pride of ownership. That is not what affordable housing is in Easton, she said.
“It’s for your every day person working hard, and not making a big income,” she said.
People whose income is 80 percent or less of the median income in the region qualify for affordable housing help. That is surprisingly high in Easton, where a family of four qualifies if their combined income is $64,000 or under.
Though a certified housing plan gives the town the right to produce affordable housing at a slow pace, the plan also indicates that the town should try to provide that type of housing more quickly. Harrigan said the town actually needs about 1,300 (900 rentals and 400 owned) more affordable units right now, in order to accommodate all the residents who are in the low or moderate income bracket.
“Housing prices have come down. They were very, very high at their peak, and they’re moving in a direction where more people can afford housing. But even with the most updated numbers, we’re still some 400 ownership units short of what is needed,” he said.
The town submitted the plan to the state late last month, after getting approval from selectmen, and the zoning and planning boards. The state has 90 days to examine it, but Harrigan said that the state will probably notify the town if there are any problems within a few weeks.