North Attleborough among new entries to Housing Choice Communities

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North Attleborough Town Hall

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Increased housing for the working class and senior citizens are at the top of the “to-do” list for the town’s leaders.

North Attleborough was among eight towns to be added to the Housing Choice Communities program, which recognizes those who have made substantial progress toward their housing goals. Economic Development Director Lyle Pirnie said that improving the town’s affordable housing stock is part of the process.

Mass General Law Chapter 40B calls for every city and town to have at least 10 percent of its housing stock fall into the ‘affordable’ category, which means the price matches the median income. North Attleborough only has 3.5 percent affordable housing. What this means is that the town cannot deny a project which includes affordable housing, though Pirnie said it’s something being encouraged rather than fought against. Should a project be one-quarter affordable housing, all of the units would count towards the 10 percent goal.

We like to make it clear to developers that we want projects to be 40B,” he said.

A 40B development is not an unstoppable force for those communities below the 10 percent threshold. Pirnie said these developers still need to apply for the appropriate permits, and public meetings are held to give abutters the chance to ask questions. Currently, the only 40B project the town is reviewing is a proposal for John Dietsch Boulevard. Other potential sites the town can build on are a former airport property off of Route 152 and the Courtois property off of Mendon Road.

Another housing-related goal for the town is to provide more opportunities for the working class, seniors, and the handicapped. Pirnie said there is a big need for this, particularly for seniors who wish to sell their homes and move into something smaller and more affordable.

The cost of living is high and that’s really hard for seniors,” he said.

Pirnie said that when it came to qualifying for the program, the work was already done, and they simply hadn’t realized it.

I worked with Marie Clarner [Planning Board Chair] and looked at the best practices by the state housing authority,” said Pirnie. “We realized we were eligible.”

According to a press release issued by Gov. Charlie Baker’s office, the Housing Choice designation is part of the administration’s strategy to produce 135,000 new housing units by 2025 to meet demand across the state.

Along with North Attleborough, the newly designated communities include Amesbury, Belchertown, Medfield, Middleborough, Newburyport, Salem, and Sunderland.

Between 2015 and 2019, this year’s 64 Housing Choice Communities built 73 percent of all new housing units in Massachusetts. This designation affords Housing Choice Communities access to an exclusive, competitive capital grant program, and points on applications to nine other state capital grants, including MassWorks, MassDOT Complete Streets, EEA Community Investment Grants, and more.

Communities that receive this designation have either produced at least 500 new units or saw an increase of 5 percent or more in new housing from Jan. 1, 2015-Dec. 31. Alternatively, they produced at least 300 new housing units or saw an increase of 3 percent or more new housing units from Jan. 1, 2015-Dec. 31 and met seven of 14 Housing Choice Best Practices, two of which must be related to affordability.