Westborough Affordable Housing group initiates outreach

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By Jennifer L. Grybowski, Contributing Writer

Westborough – Westborough Affordable Housing Trust Working Group (AHTWG) recently launched its community outreach website, and has received nearly 120 pieces of feedback, and counting.

“We are happy to see the engagement and how thoughtful it is,” said Allen Edinberg, the group’s chair who is also a selectman.

The group will ask voters to create the Westborough Affordable Housing Trust at the Nov. 14 Town Meeting, but for now, the AHTWG’s mission is centered around education, outreach, engagement, and building support.

Edinberg said having trust is important to Westborough because essentially residents have asked for it.

“We keep hearing from residents that there is an issue with housing affordability,” he said. “We also hear from residents that as they encounter life changes and downsize, their needs change and they want to be able to afford to stay in town. And people want their college graduates to be able to afford to live in town.”

The data supports what residents are saying: more than 40 percent of renters and over 16 percent of home owners are “cost burdened” (meaning more than 30 percent of their income is spent on housing expenses) or “severely cost burdened” (meaning more than 50 percent of their income is spent on housing expenses).

The trust attends to all kinds of issues in a pragmatic way. For example, the trust will work on the critical issue of keeping the town above the 10 percent affordable housing threshold.

“So we don’t end up with more 40B developments where town can’t control density, zoning, design,” Edinberg said.

The trust also works with workforce housing and can be involved with programs to help families with a range of socioeconomic needs, opportunities and benefits. Not only will it provide reduced-priced subsidized housing, but programs to help with down payment assistance. The trust can partner with nonprofits that offer specialized mortgage programs that can take a market rate home and make it affordable. The trust can do anything a real estate development corporation does, such as taking existing housing, purchasing it and converting it to affordable.

“Having a trust taking the lead gives a lot of flexibility,” Edinberg said. “It doesn’t always necessarily mean increasing housing, but sometimes repurposing current housing.”

More diverse housing inventory has also been proven to help economic development. A broader range of workforce housing for people to support restaurants and shops will contribute to vibrancy in the downtown area.

“People want stable communities,” Edinberg said. “A broader mix of housing options creates more stable communities and know a healthy housing mix helps businesses and creates a healthy community and supports engagement.”

The trust will be establishing priorities, one which will be to have more subsidized affordable housing for seniors because right now there is more demand for that than availability. Edinberg said another priority is to have more affordable housing for the workforce, including firefighters and police officers, store clerks, young professionals and millennials who are graduating from college, technicians and manufacturers and more.

“We have a wide range of individuals and families,” he said.

Edinberg acknowledged people often worry about large affordable housing projects that are somewhat isolated from everyone else.

“There is definitely a stigma,” he said. “In reality, the best affordable housing is created in a variety of neighborhoods. They blend in. Some homes are market rate, some are affordable units, and when you look at it from the outside you would never know the difference. As part of our work we are establishing some guiding principles and one of them is respecting the nature and character of our neighborhoods.”

The trust won’t be all-powerful, though. Edinberg said the trust is looking to implement additional oversights that aren’t required by Mass law. For example, the trust may need to go to the board of selectmen for a concurrence vote on larger transactions the trust might undertake.

“By design, trusts are meant to be independent, but law allows for expansion or limiting of the power of a trust so the town is confident the trust is being managed well and decisions are appropriate,” Edinberg said.

Visit the site at https://courbanize.com/projects/waht/information for more information and to share feedback. More information can also be found at https://www.town.westborough.ma.us/affordable-housing-trust-working-group