Rule changes proposed to increase affordable housing in Gloucester

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff file photo/Gloucester's Planning Board is looking to change the city's housing ordinance to in an effort to create more affordable housing. Here, workers continue construction last Wednesday on the Harbor Village complex on Main Street, which will have affordable housing units.

Gloucester hopes to increase its supply of housing available to and affordable for low-income and very-low income households, and proposes to do it by amending its inclusionary housing ordinance. 

The proposals, drafted at the Planning Board's Dec. 17 meeting, aim to encourage greater diversity of housing in the city and to develop and maintain housing that is eligible for inclusion in the Chapter 40B Subsidized Housing Inventory — which is used to measure a community's stock of low-or moderate-income housing.

To accomplish these goals, the drafted amendments outline that any development that creates six to nine units must provide one affordable unit by building an affordable unit on site or paying a fee in substitute for the affordable unit to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, an account operated by the city's Affordable Housing Trust.

"A lot of this just a balance of trying to decide how we can effectively use an ordinance to basically make most developments in Gloucester contribute to the problem of affordability,"  city Planning Board Director Gregg Cademartori said at the Jan. 4 Planning Board Subcommittee meeting. 

For developments involving the creation of 10 units or more, at least 15% of the units must affordable for low-income households or at least 8% of the units affordable for very low-income households. 

The drafted amendments detail that on-site affordable units must be dispersed throughout the development and must be "indistinguishable on the exterior and the interior from the market-rate units."

The number of bedrooms in the affordable units must be comparable to that which is found in the market-rate units. 

If an applicant chooses to pay the fee to the city's Affordable Housing Trust in lieu of having units on site, it will be equal to 80% of the median sale price of a comparable unit in the city over the three years preceding the date of the application.

Planning Board Subcommittee members identified that they will have to be very clear when it comes to defining terms as they relate to affordable housing in the city if they want to bring them to have them approved by the City Council and the public.

"These particular terms will take a fair amount to try to make sure people understand what will come out of the other end of these potential amendments," Cademartori explained. 

Shawn Henry, a Planning Board member, noted on Monday that the city has examples it can point to when explaining the terms and proposed changes. 

"We should take advantage of the real-life examples we have coming online," he said, listing the Fuller School, Middle Street and Harbor Village projects as examples.

At the Fuller Elementary School site, 200 new housing units are being built with 30 planned affordable housing units. As the Cape Ann YMCA is set to move to its new building next door, its old building on Middle Street is to be transformed into 44 affordable apartments for seniors 62 and older.

And just down the street from Middle Street, the soon-to-be Harbor Village apartment community on Main Street will have 30 residential rental units made available for households earning from 30% to 60% of the area median income. 

"These are real world with real numbers that is happening right now," Henry added.  

The Planning Board is scheduled to continue its discussion about the drafted amendments to the inclusionary zoning ordinance on Thursday, Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. 

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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