Lt. Gov. Driscoll, Housing Secretary Augustus Hear Concerns at Downtown Haverhill Roundtable

State Housing Secretary Edward M. Augustus, third from left, leads housing listening sessions across the state. Joining him in Haverhill were Rep. Andy X. Vargas, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and Haverhill Mayor Melinda E. Barrett. (WHAV News photograph.)

State officials heard how hard it can be to navigate Greater Haverhill’s housing market from residents, advocates and lenders at a roundtable held yesterday at UMass Lowell’s Innovation Hub at Harbor Place.

At the head of the table were Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, state Housing Secretary Edward M. Augustus, state Rep. Andy X. Vargas and Mayor Melinda E. Barret. The governor’s Affordable Homes Act proposes $150 million to boost affordable homeownership opportunities.

Introducing the event, Barrett said, “This is the important work of creating generational wealth and homeownership. It can make an incredible difference in a family’s existence, in their long-term stability and our community’s long-term stability, so we’re just thrilled that they’re here on their tour.”

Part of developing a five-year plan, the first in 40 years, the Healey-Driscoll administration and state housing department have been holding listening sessions across the Commonwealth. Augustus pointed to high costs disrupting the usual “lifecycle.”

“You’re getting out of college, and you’re looking for an apartment with your roommates, then you’re getting married and you’re having kids and you’re looking for ownership opportunities and more space, and then you’re empty-nesters and you’re downsizing,” he said. “You need to be able to do all of those things here in Massachusetts, and right now we’re seeing this whole ecosystem gridlocked. And we’re going to do everything we can to put some grease in those wheels.”

Erin Muschette, who is not originally from the city, bought a home in Haverhill after 10 years of searching. She said she was lucky she had a real estate agent who worked for a bank and knew to direct her to MassDREAMS, which helps first-time homebuyers pay for closing costs and down payments.

“But the first two real estate agents that I worked with never even once mentioned the one program, MassDREAMS, or anything like that, so it’s definitely not publicly known,” she said. “For people that are looking, you’re fighting for this information, and then by the time you find out about it, it might be too late.”

She echoed the words of a housing activist from Lawrence, who said people who “do everything right”—maintain a good credit score, put money in the bank and hold down a decent job—still struggle to secure their first home. Another Haverhill resident mentioned she must delicately balance earning enough to pay for childcare with remaining eligible for mortgage assistance.

Calling housing a political problem, Vargas encouraged greater participation in local meetings about possible developments. “The folks that are more involved and more active right now, across the board, are folks that show up to say ‘no’ to housing, frankly. And you can have all the data on your side. I can show you how a Dunkin’ Donuts generates more traffic than an 80-unit building—it’s true. But none of that matters when you pack a room with fifteen people that are saying ‘no,’ and one person that is saying ‘yes.’”

Christine Kwitchoff, workforce development lead for MakeIt Haverhill, brought up so-called “missing middle housing” in the city. This includes duplexes or triplexes—cheaper units seniors or young families can make use of.

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