Elected officials see positives with affordable housing bill

The Emerald Square Mall may be home to a large housing development in the near future. A new housing bill seeks to address a high demand for a limited housing stock. File photo
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The demand for affordable housing in North Attleborough and the City of Attleboro is growing, and elected officials are determining if a piece of legislation can provide a solution.

State Rep. Adam Scanlon (D-North Attleborough) and State Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough) are supporting a bill recently introduced by Reps. Andres Vargas (D-Haverhill) and Kevin Honan (D-Allston) aim to build 427,000 new housing units in Massachusetts by 2040.

If passed by the legislature, the Act to Promote Yes In My Backyard or YIMBY would require building 85,400 housing units for households earning less than 80% of an area’s median income. The bill also would require all municipalities to create guidelines to build accessible dwelling units (ADUs) and to convert vacant commercial structures into mixed-use developments to provide affordable housing stock. YIMBY is a play on the acronym NIMBY, which stands for Not In My Backyard, applied to those that oppose development in their neighborhood.

Scanlon said he is inclined to support the bill, citing the provision to build more ADUs.  ADUs are self-contained apartments attached to single-family homes. Scanlon said those who require special care, such as seniors, would benefit from this.

“A lot of people have to take care of their grandparents later in life. Seniors deserve affordable housing,” Scanlon said. “My mom had to move in with my grandma so I get it.”

Scanlon has not co-sponsored the bill yet but said he is holding regular conversations with Vargas and his staff to learn how it could help his constituents.

“Many seniors require constant supervision from a family member or friend,” Scanlon said. “We will do our best to support policies that meet these needs through legislation developed collaboratively.”

In the Senate, Feeney said he is looking at all options to address the demand for affordable housing. He said seniors, young adults, and those without high-paying jobs face a housing market with high demand, but low supply.

Feeney said he supports the production goal set by the bill, but added it was only one part of a broader solution. He said he would consider supporting a similar bill in the Senate.

“In Massachusetts, we have long taken a carrot and stick approach to incentivize the creation of new housing,” Feeney said. “Either by setting mandates here, or putting new subsidies there.  It’s essential that we do the hard work at the local level to figure out where housing makes sense and to plan ahead through zoning regulations.”

As of Feb. 21, the bill has 20 co-sponsors, such as State Rep. Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro) and State Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham).

Hawkins, a member of a bipartisan group to address homelessness, said seniors are at risk of losing their homes because of rent increases. The building of additional ADUs, he said, would help seniors be close to their families.

“The YIMBY bill will allow for accessory dwellings, which will give some elderly residents a place to go if they have family nearby,” Hawkins said. “I am actively researching the possibility of a new project that would provide senior housing that they can afford.”

Housing advocates have been pushing for the bill’s passage since its introduction in January.  Jesse Kanson-Benanav, executive director of Abundant Housing Massachusetts, said he hopes the bill will be approved by the House, Senate, and signed by Governor Maura Healey.

Kanson-Benanav said comments from Healey, House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) and Senate President Karen Spilka, (D-Ashland) signal that leaders are willing to address the rise of rent and house prices.

“Housing has emerged as a major issue this session, as evidenced by statements from that Governor, Senate President and Speaker alike,” he said. “While there are many facets to our housing crisis that needs to be addressed, I’m confident that we’ll be able to build a consensus on Beacon Hill that zoning reform to build more affordable homes stateside is a top solution to our statewide housing shortage.”

The bill has yet to be sent to a committee for further review.

According to Zillow.com, current apartment rents in North Attleborough range from $1500 to nearly $3000 while the average price of a home is $498,719. In 2021, the average single-family house would cost $525,000.  Town Manager Michael Borg said while the housing market is cooling off from 2021, the town will do more to help those with vocational careers and recent graduates find affordable housing.

The mixed used 40R apartment project on Kelley Boulevard and a potential 300-unit apartment complex at the Emerald Square Mall are two of the examples Borg provided to indicate the town’s willingness to adopt a strategy that is proactive and, as he likes to say, “holistic.”

“We want that opportunity to bring in housing and that retail,” Borg said.  “We do see that slowdown, but there’s not a lot of housing units on the market right now. This is a long-term view.”