Haverhill’s elected leaders and housing officials debated Tuesday night how to address increasing housing costs, including skyrocketing rents that are making it difficult for longtime residents to find reasonably priced housing.
While the City Council has given approval to a number of multifamily construction projects over the last year, few projects are geared toward affordable housing. The issue came as Mayor James J. Fiorentini appointed his first members to a new Housing Task Force.
“We have a terrible problem in the city right now with people being priced out of the housing market. How do you keep it so that our children and grandchildren can afford to live in the city? I’ve introduced an ordinance, which is not before you tonight. It requires that 10% of the new developments be affordable and we’ll be discussing it a little bit more at the planning board,” the mayor said.
Fiorentini called the matter a complicated issue because such an ordinance could scare off potential developers. For that reason, he said, he is forming a Housing Task Force to help find the best ways of providing affordable housing while not discouraging the construction of market rate housing for those who can afford it. He also requested the Council to send the ordinance to a committee in order to get their input as well.
The mayor’s first appointments to the Task Force include Economic Development and Planning Director William Pillsbury Jr., Community Development Block Grant Housing Manager Matthew Hennigan, Community Development Director Andrew K. Herlihy, Kerri Perry of Community Action, Manny Matias of the Haverhill Latino Coalition and Haverhill Housing Authority Chairman Robert Driscoll.
Councilors Timothy J. Jordan and John A. Michitson also proposed holding a public housing forum to address the issue. Jordan said the forum would look at three prongs of the issue.
“As the mayor mentioned, it’s a very complex problem. We’re looking at affordable housing; preservation of open space, as we’ve heard that issue come up a lot; and then, finally, the infrastructure we need to support all the expanded housing,” he said.
Regarding the latter, School Superintendent Margaret Marotta told councilors the most recent projections from the Massachusetts School Building Authority project a decline in student population.
“According to those projections, Haverhill, like most communities across the state and the country, would reduce in school age population over the next ten years. However, that is not what we are actually seeing,” she said.
Michitson said this is the kind of data the Council needs to make informed decisions regarding further construction so as not to outpace the city’s infrastructure.
Emmaus CEO and Executive Director Jeanine Murphy said the solution may not be simply designating a portion of each development as affordable, but rather allowing developers to contribute to a fund to build dedicated housing.