Gloucester's Planning Board is receiving praise for its work aimed at increasing Gloucester’s supply of housing available to and affordable for low-income and very-low income households.
Twenty-three members of the public, including the Mayor and City Councilor Jennifer Holmgren, tuned into the Planning Board’s meeting last week to comment on the board’s drafted amendments to the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. They all spoke before the board members agreed to recommend that the City Council adopt revisions to an ordinance that aims to make more affordable housing available in Gloucester.
And while not all 23 attendees spoke that night, those that did all spoke in favor of something they believe is going to make a positive change within the city.
“The housing authority believes that this will help to increase the amount of affordable housing within our community,” said David Holden, executive director of Gloucester Housing Authority. “It is clearer than the existing requirements and is a vast improvement to the existing requirements.”
As of Feb. 18, Holden said, 750 Gloucester households making 50% of the area median income were looking for some sort of affordable housing.
“These are the people that are going to be helped by this ordinance,” he said.
The current ordinance requires that a certain portion of units in developments of eight units or more have to provide affordability to households that are defined as making 80% of the area median income.
The proposed amendments include:
Lowering the threshold of applicability for developments with eight housing units to six housing units.
Requiring 10% of units to be deed restricted as affordable to households earning 80% of the area median income (AMI) in developments between six and nine units.
Requiring 15% of housing units to be deed restricted as affordable to households earning 80% AMI or 10% of housing units to be deed restricted as affordable households earning 60% AMI in developments of 10 units or greater.
Providing an in-lieu payment option for developments with six to nine units.
Providing a greatly expanded definition of terms, including those related to "affordability" which are defined by reference to income levels determined the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Other attendees echoed Holden’s excitement, pointing out different aspects of the proposed ordinance that they believe would make a real difference for Gloucester residents.
“I want to speak vigorously in favor of these recommendations,” Gloucester resident Sunny Robinson said. “There are a number of steps and layers that are really important and will help increase the amount of affordable housing in the Gloucester area.”
Both Andrew DeFranza of Harborlight Community Partners and Peggy Hegarty-Steck of Action Inc. both spoke highly of the changes that focus on helping households that earn 60% AMI.
Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken sang nothing but praises to the Planning Board, who have been working on making housing affordable for Gloucester residents for multiple years.
“We are mixed use and mixed heritage, but we are also mixed income,” she said. “What you are doing is the first step of giving hope.”
No one spoke in opposition to the drafted amendments at the meeting.
Two residents did comment; one wishing for more community-wide communication about the definitions of affordability and another for a focus on climate change within city planning in the future.
Revising the inclusionary housing ordinance is one of five strategies the Planning Board identified to produce more affordable housing throughout the city. The others include creating an accessory housing ordinance to allow the creation of attached or detached accessory housing units, to increase the stock of rental housing; revising dimensional standards to facilitate the create of single-,two-,and three-family dwellings; consolidating permitting and increasing the allowance of residential use near the downtown train station; and consolidating permitting and better defining allowed density in mixed use projects downtown.
The Planning Board is looking to address each strategy individually in separate public hearings.
“Clearly the people who spoke tonight have got a pretty strong tie to the community that they are serving so it was reassuring to me that we are most literally on the right track,” board member Richard Noonan said.
Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.