Haverhill Falls Below 10% Affordable Housing But City Still Has Right to Turn Away Undesirable Projects

A 2016 view of construction of Harbor Place, with apartments being built at right. (WHAV News file photograph.)

A new state analysis of subsidized housing shows Haverhill has fallen just below the 10% threshold that prevents low-income housing developers from bypassing city zoning rules.

Having an inventory of below 10% subsidized housing theoretically allows a developer to seek a comprehensive permit to build housing from local zoning boards of appeal under Chapter 40B of state law. The rule allows permitting outside of what might otherwise be approved by the Planning Board or City Council.

Haverhill Economic Development and Planning Director Williams Pillsbury Jr. says the city will soon be back above the 10% threshold with current construction projects. These include Bethany Community Services’ Merrimack Place on downtown’s Haverhill Water Street with 48 new, affordable senior apartments adjacent to its Merrivista building.

Pillsbury adds the city is also protected—at least for a while—from projects it finds incompatible because of its five-year Housing Production Plan previously approved by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The plan, prepared in concert with the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, expires this fall, but another is in progress.

“You espouse goals for more units, project units into the future, and that plan gets approved by DHCD and they say, ‘Because of that, we’ll give you protection,’” he explains.

Haverhill Rep. Andy X. Vargas. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill state Rep. Andy X. Vargas notes the state analysis confirms what residents are noticing in their searches for affordable living spaces.

“The updated affordable housing numbers validate what many constituents have told us—they can’t find a place they can afford. People often think affordable housing is only Section 8, but it’s really housing that nurses, teachers and other essential workers can afford,” Vargas told WHAV.

Pillsbury said the city continues to seek construction of reasonably priced housing.

“We continue to work aggressively on affordable housing. We’ve been very aggressive with all of our projects, trying to at least include a component of affordable housing back 10, 15 years,” he says.

According to the state, Haverhill has 27,869 total housing units, 2,951 units in developments where there are subsidized units and 2,735 subsidized apartments.

Chapter 40B is a state statute that allows local boards of appeals to approve housing developments if at least 20-25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.

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