Some City Councilors, Residents Skeptical of Buyout Portion of Plan to Address Housing Shortage

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill city councilors appear largely intrigued by a multipart plan to address the shortage of housing—affordable units in particular, but some expressed concerns Tuesday night that parts of the proposal could actually drive away builders.

As WHAV previously reported the administration’s proposal requires 10% of units in future housing developments to be set aside as affordable, establishes a new housing board and builder-financed trust fund and adds incentives to allow more units despite lot sizes. Councilors unanimously agreed to have its Administration and Finance Committee delve deeper, but not before hearing general agreement from the public. Jane C. Hucks of Haverhill called resolution of the housing shortage essential for serving the local workforce.

“This is a way that we can keep workers in our city, where they want to stay, where they’re near their jobs so they can also raise their children here,” she said.

City councilors agreed to accept a state law, allowing creation of a trust fund and related bureaucracy. Haverhill’s proposed implementation would allow developers to pay $35,000 for a rental unit or $50,000 for a sale unit into the fund to avoid further obligations.

Alice Mann of Haverhill took issue though with the provision.

“The second comment has to do with the buyout, and I have to say, even the phrase makes my blood boil…Certainly, when we’re talking about a larger developer, nobody can live in the fund or a housing commission or anything else. People can only live in houses,” she said.

Mann said there should be a requirement to build units without an escape clause. She also noted the plan does not directly support low-income housing—instead targeting those earning between $62,000 and $89,000, but all types of housing are needed.

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua also balked at the fees possibly being too high, while Councilor Michael S. McGonagle questioned whether the entire plan would drive away developers.

“If we put this that there is no opt out, and a developer says, ‘I don’t have to go there and give you those five units. I can take your project to Methuen, or Groveland or Georgetown and build it there without your requirement,’” he said.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini opened the discussion saying, the problem is two-fold.

“Some people are forced to pay rent more than they can affor and they’re forced to give up other things that they need as necessities to pay the rent. Some people can’t find any place to live anywhere at any price. Some of them have become homeless. There is a nice lady that my staff and I are dealing with who became homeless when she couldn’t pay the rent increase. People are doubling up on families and people are moving out of the state and out of the city,” he said.

The mayor added that despite the appearance of too much development, the city is actually losing people because of a lack of housing.

“We’ve grown over the past 10 or 20 years at a healthy and sustainable rate—slow growth actually. But, two years ago for the first time since at least 1985, we lost population. We lost about 400 people,” he explained.

The mayor said there are 500 fewer kids in public schools than when he took office 20 years ago.

The proposed zoning ordinance requiring 10% of units to be affordable would apply to single-family as well as multifamily developments.

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