Belmont OKs First Housing Production Plan; Keys On Seniors, Young Families

Photo: The leaders of the effort to bring a Housing Production Plan to Belmont: (from left), Charles Clark, Judy Singler,  Judith Feins, Rachel Heller, Gloria Leipzig.

With the median sales price of single-family homes reaching seven figures and new residential construction being gobbled up for well over a million dollars, it wouldn’t appear the residents choosing to live in affluent “Town of Homes” would have a problem obtaining and keeping their homes 

In fact, one of four Belmont households is eligible for affordable housing.

According to the Belmont Housing Trust, more than one in four Belmont homeowners and nearly half of all renters are cost-burdened when it comes to paying for basic housing expenses, more than 30 percent of their income for the places they live.

While the demand is there, the supply of “affordable” units is wanting; only 6.7 percent of Belmont properties are deemed as affordable, according to data compiled by the Metro West Collaborative Developers.

“We were pretty surprised and you may be too to see how disproportion the need relative to the affordable house that we have,” said Judith Feins, chair of the Belmont Housing Trust, established nearly two decades ago to investigate ways of bringing people and affordable housing together.

Now, in a historic vote, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved Belmont’s first Housing Production Plan directing the town to assist in the building and preservation of affordable units that will assist residents such as elderly households and young families which are disproportionately impacted by the current housing stock. 

“We can finally say Belmont is moving in the right direction increasing housing that’s desperately needed,” said Feins.

“These are all laudable goals and it leverages additional funding from the state. This is long overdue,” said Adam Dash, Selectmen chair. 

The town’s new housing blueprint has been a long-time coming as the Housing Trust first approached the town seven years ago to begin the process that most municipalities in eastern Massachusetts have approved. 

A major delay was due to the strung-out approval process for the Cushing Village (known today as The Bradford) project which acted like a black hole for all other board business and previous Planning Boards did not see the urgency to take up the proposal.

That changed with the appointment of Charles Clark as chair and with a majority of new members coming on the board last fall. A long-time supporter of the Trust’s goals, Clark said the plan was finally able to pass – on a unanimous vote – seeing the proposed plan was needed.

“You have to want it to happen and you have to think it’s important,” said Clark.

The plan is a proactive strategy for planning and developing housing “that can shape their future in developing community and affordable housing,” Feins told the selectmen. It also determines how the town reaches the target of 10 percent affordability housing stock set by the state in General Law Chapter 40B.

The plan’s goal is to increase affordable housing by 337 units to meet the state’s affordability standard with the spotlight on creating more housing for three specific groups:

  • senior households
  • young newly-formed families and
  • extremely and very low-income households

The Planning Board early this year suggested some clarity changes to the Trust’s original plan which the Trust came back after “rethinking” the plan with those “constructive ideas” incorporated into the revised plan, said the Trust’s Gloria Leipzig.

The Trust proposes to increase housing production via a number of “concrete strategies,” including:

  • Redevelop abandoned or underutilized parcels on South Pleasant Street, the McLean Senior Residence site, the Purecoat factory adjacent Belmont High School, the vacant gas station on Blanchard Road and property on church and other religious properties.
  • Maximize housing development at transportation hubs such as the Moraine Street and increase housing over shops and stores.
  • Invest in the revitalization and preservation of the town’s stock of community housing such as Sherman Gardens and Belmont Village.
  • Use Community Preservation Act funds on new programs such as spending annually 10 percent of the total CPA on housing, use the funds to leverage the purchase and development of community housing when land becomes available. 

The plan now heads for approval by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. If the OK comes quickly, the town will be able to become a state Housing Choice Community by its April 30 deadline for Belmont to be eligible for state funds. 

Leipzig said the Trust and the Planning Board and Selectmen will continue working on implementing the plan through town government action – such as seeking zoning changes to help facilitate the creation and preservation of housing – and acquiring state grants and loans.

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