Gov. Baker in Haverhill Lauds City for Role in Addressing Housing Shortage; Transforming Downtown

In Haverhill, from left, state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, (WHAV News photograph.)

Additional photographs below.

In what may well be part of his farewell tour, Gov. Charlie Baker used downtown Haverhill as a backdrop yesterday to tout his administration’s housing policies.

Baker and his State House entourage gathered Thursday morning at the UMass Innovation Hub, a building with an associated housing component made possible by state MassWorks grants. He pointed out his administration was tasked with resolving a housing shortage that saw 900,000 new homes built between 1960 and 1990, but only about 490,000 during the next three decades.

“We’ve treated this as the existential problem that it is. Since 2015, through state and federal housing tax credits, we’ve invested more than $1.5 billion in affordable housing which has resulted in the production and preservation of more than 22,000 units of housing—20,000 of which were affordable units,” he said.

The governor added $700,000 spent through the state MassWorks infrastructure grant program helped generate 26,000 new homes. Further, he said, giving credit to Rep. Andy X. Vargas and other members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, a $60 million Commonwealth Builders homeownership project saw the first two homes built and bought in Haverhill. Baker blamed racist housing policies for much of today’s housing shortage.

“Anybody who has spent any time studying federal housing policy knows that for decades, right up until the 1960s and even beyond in some cases, federal housing policy was designed—designed—to make it very difficult for communities and people of color to access federal mortgage programs and other supported homeownership programs. You combine that with a variety of zoning policies that were more state and local, and this is an absolute travesty that has to be addressed,” he said.

The state’s new development rules around MBTA communities and Housing Choice laws helped reverse, what he called, “exclusionary” zoning policies that killed needed houses and apartments.

“How the hell can you fail when you get a 7-4 affirmative vote for something? And, the answer is you needed it two thirds, which for an 11-member City Council is 8-3. It’s even more complicated for a lot of town boards because those are five-member select boards which means you need four votes,” he explained.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini conceded he had “a lot of doubts” himself about the eventual success of what became known as the “Haverhill Renaissance.”

“When I started, almost none of what you see in downtown was there. On this site was the Woolworth’s building that had been abandoned for 50 years. The Haverhill Heights building down the street—that magnificent 10-story building—was an unused parking lot. The boardwalk out back wasn’t there. There was an unused street called Wall Street of all things,” he said.

He said the assessed value of 13 redeveloped downtown properties went from $12 million to $132 million, bringing in $5.5 million more in taxes annually. He added 1,000 new residents came to downtown and, despite contrary assertions, only 42 children were added to public school rolls.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito gave her reaction to the evolution of downtown Haverhill, giving a shoutout to developer Salvatore N. Lupoli who was present.

“It’s incredible. It’s transformational what’s happened here in Haverhill over the last eight years. Did you ever think the Haverhill Heights building was going to be as beautiful and special as it is? That’s a building you’d see in downtown Boston, and it’s here in Haverhill,” she said.

Baker noted former Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera’s appointment to lead MassDevelopment was initially seen as counterintuitive for a business finance agency, but that was exactly what was needed to understand development needs in cities.

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