Addressing the Town’s Housing Diversity Needs
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The proposed apartment complex on Shingle Hill as a 40B project brought a spotlight on the affordable housing laws of the state and the current status of affordable housing in town. The lack of housing diversity in Manchester, while not new, has garnered renewed attention. And if the recent work of the Citizen’s Initiative for Manchester Affordable Housing (CIMAH) is any indication, the new focus could well result in the creation of new housing in town that provides for greater choices.
Most of the town’s 115 officially designated affordable housing is through the Manchester Housing Authority, an agency of the state. This is just over 5% of our year-round housing (based on 2010 Census data.) The state goal for communities is 10%. The Authority’s units, mainly at The Plains, and at Newport Park, are quite outdated and in need of renovations. Unfortunately, the state does not prioritize the upkeep of these units.
Back in 2016 voters approved the creation of the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust. The Trust is tasked with the goal of expanding more community housing. While the Trust has explored a variety of options for new affordable units, to date, they have only been able to facilitate a handful of new units. The 12 Summer Street project, completed in the 1980’s, was the last larger successful affordable housing project completed.
One of the early accomplishments of the Trust was the completion of a housing production plan. This document was just recently updated as it was coming to the end of its five-year lifespan. The housing production plan identifies a number of strategies for creating more diverse housing stock. The state allows a town “safe harbor” from 40B projects if it demonstrates adequate yearly progress towards it housing production goals. For us that means some 11 new affordable units a year.
One of the more promising projects that the Trust is pursuing is a joint effort with the Housing Authority to renovate and expand the two Housing Authority complexes in town. While still being developed, the preliminary plans call for partnering with a private entity to recapitalize and expand the complexes while possibly creating new units at the site of the current DPW garage off Pleasant Street. Further public discussions on this approach will be taking place in the coming months.
Of course, there is much excitement and energy devoted to CIMAH’s Powder House Hill project. The Affordable Housing Trust, along with the Board of Selectmen, will be working with CIMAH and the North Shore CDC in advancing this project. And there could be other, similar projects based on this new model that emerge in town.
Meanwhile, SLV is proceeding with an application directly to MassHousing for a slightly scaled back version of their Shingle Hill 40B proposal. This will be a conventional 40B with 136 units proposed. Once we receive official word from the state that the application has been received, the Town will have 30 days (with a possible extension of 30 days) to comment on the project before the state issues a letter of applicability. This will allow the project to proceed to the comprehensive permitting process before the ZBA. Regardless of the comments the state receives at this stage it is most likely that the project will be allowed to proceed with the ZBA permitting process. A decision by the ZBA is appealable to the state’s Housing Appeals Committee unless the town secures safe harbor status prior to the application being submitted to the ZBA.
Affordable housing projects will remain front and center for the town for the foreseeable future. This will involve efforts on many different fronts and continue to require significant time and energy to produce outcomes that are favorable to the community.