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North Suburban News

Winchester Looks At Next Step to Increase Affordable Housing

Apr 10, 2019 09:37PM ● By Dan Marra

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WINCHESTER – Town Meeting members in Winchester will have an opportunity to help increase affordable housing in town at the spring town meeting later this month.

As part of the town’s Housing Production Plan, Winchester Town Meeting members will be voting on Article 15, which would create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  Currently, Winchester has a housing trust fund that is controlled by the Select Board which has approximately $1 million in it. Most of the funds in the town’s housing trust fund came from payments in lieu of affordable units.

According to the town’s housing production plan, by converting Winchester’s existing housing trust fund to a Municipal Housing Trust Fund (HTF) the town would be able to more efficiently access its resources.

By converting the fund to an HTF, a Board of Trustees will oversee the fund. The board will have the authority to receive or disburse funds efficiently to avoid delays and missed opportunities. The board would consist of at least five members, including one member from the Select Board.

According to Shelly Goehring, program manager of Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP), there are 110 trust funds in the state that are actively engaged in creating affordable housing in the community. However, mixed use facilities that also include retail shops along with housing, which Winchester was looking at, are difficult to create under a trust fund as the rules and stipulations for municipal trust funds are limiting.

Increasing affordable housing in Winchester has been a focus of the town for years now. According to the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, only 1.9 percent of Winchester's housing units are considered affordable, which places Winchester in the bottom 10 percent of communities in Massachusetts when it comes to affordable housing. The primary drive for communities to reach that 10 percent number is control, according to Clark Ziegler, executive director of the MHP.

“More communities are trying to develop their own housing plans as they try and get ahead and be in control of housing products,” Ziegler said. “If the communities don’t have a plan and aren’t moving toward increasing their affordable housing, communities lose control and building developers can bypass town bylaws.”

According to the town, by creating an HTF, the board is granted several powers in order to advance affordable housing preservation and provision in a community, including accepting and receiving property or funds, purchasing or selling property, and managing or improving existing properties.

Creating an HTF will allow the town to respond to real estate opportunities in a timely manner without having to wait for Town Meeting to review and approve. Additionally, unlike the Housing Partnership Board, which can act only in an advisory capacity, a municipal affordable housing trust will have the authority to proactively initiate a range of development activities, including buying and selling property.

Town Meeting will take place on Monday, April 29.

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