ESSEX — Town officials invite the public to learn more about affordable housing trust funds and how one could potentially benefit Essex at a public forum next week.

The virtual event, hosted by selectmen and the Essex Housing Coalition, will be held Monday, Dec. 6, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The forum will be led by personnel from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership. Information on how to join the meeting online or by phone is available at essexma.org.

According to Selectmen Chairwoman Ruth Pereen, a trust would allow the town to quickly purchase a parcel of land or property for affordable housing if an opportunity arises.

“A couple years ago, we had a chance to purchase a property in downtown Essex, on Martin Street,” she explained. “We were interested, but we told them we would have to wait until Town Meeting to get the appropriate funding. The seller didn’t want to wait around.”

If the town was able to purchase the Martin Street property, Pereen said, it would have pushed Essex over the affordable housing quota established by the state’s Chapter 40B statute. The statute defines “affordable housing” as places that are priced at 80% of the area median income through deed restriction. Chapter 40B aims to qualify 10% of a community’s housing stock as affordable.

Currently, Chebacco Terrace is Essex’s only affordable housing. Its 40 units make up 2.7% of the town’s total housing stock. Since the town is sitting under the 10% 40B quota, the state may supersede local rules and regulations regarding potential affordable housing purchases or construction projects.

Manchester is in the midst of a controversial 40B project. While members of town government and the public have expressed concerns with the project, they aren’t able to pull the plug on it as the town’s affordable housing stock is also under 10%. The developers are allowed under 40B to get their permits from the state, not Manchester Town Hall.

Pereen said the Essex has not heard from any developer with interest in building a 40B development. Construction is not in the cards right now as “we don’t have a lot of buildable land,” she said. Instead, the town will focus on acquiring land and properties for affordable housing.

“The funds (for an affordable housing trust) don’t have to be appropriated at Town Meeting,” Pereen said. “(The trust) can receive private donations or CPA (Community Preservation Act) funds. It can also take in donations of land and property as well, not just money.”

Voters will be asked if they wish to establish an affordable housing trust fund at Town Meeting in April.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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