Forum This Thursday To Discuss How Belmont Can Reach Goals Of Equitable, Affordable Housing

Photo: A road towards more equitable housing in Belmont

Belmont Against RacismThe Belmont Housing TrustThe Belmont Media Center, and the Belmont Human Rights Commission are hosting an informational public forum titled “Belmont’s Road to Housing Equity this Thursday, April 29 at 6:55 p.m. via Zoom or live on Belmont Media Center.

It will be an evening to explore historical and present day housing issues an how Belmont can reach its goals of equitable and affordable housing.

Zoom link at or Channel 96 (Comcast) or Channel 30 (Verizon)

  • How can Belmont reach its goals of equitable and affordable housing? 
  • What’s the historical background and how does it relate to fair housing law?
  • Who shapes local housing and zoning decisions?
  • What does new zoning legislation mean for Belmont?
  • Where is Belmont today on meeting its housing goals?
  • How does Belmont fit into the wider transportation picture, with its new zoning rules and tools as well as its financial incentives for the Town?

Learn from a panel of experts as we explore these questions. There will be a Q & A opportunity.

  • State Rep. Dave Rogers(24th Middlesex District), 
  • Robert Terrell (Fair Housing, Equity and Inclusion Officer at the Boston Housing Authority and previously Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston); 
  • Katherine Einstein (Assistant Director of Policy at Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research); 
  • Jarred Johnson (Executive Director of TransitMatters); and
  • Judie Feins and Betsy Lipson of the Belmont Housing Trust.
  • Moderated by Rachel Heller (Co-Chair of the Belmont Housing Trust and Chief Executive Director of CHAPA.

The Belmont Emergency Rental Assistance Program Is Accepting Applications

Photo: Rental assistance in Belmont.

The Town of Belmont has launched today, Monday, July 27, an Emergency Rental Assistance Program to aid residents who rent in town and have suffered loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This initiative was authorized by the annual 2020 Town Meeting in June, which permitted the Belmont Housing Trust to use its previously allocated $250,000 CPA grant for the purpose of relieving economic distress among Belmont renters and their landlords due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic’s stay-at-home recommendations over the past few months have heightened for all of us the importance of having safe and stable housing. Right now, many local households need help making each month’s rent. The town has done the right thing to step in with this emergency rent relief initiative,” said Betsy Lipson, co-chair of the Housing Trust.

Among Belmont households, 36.5 percent are renters. Before the pandemic, one in four Belmont renters were already considered housing cost-burdened, paying over 30 percent of their incomes on rent, and that proportion has certainly grown with loss of jobs and income due to COVID-19.

The program is temporary and time-limited in nature. It offers up to three months of assistance toward rent payments to eligible households. Belmont residents who rent in town and have lost their jobs or had their incomes reduced because of the pandemic can now apply. Belmont’s property owners – many of whom are small landlords – will also benefit from this program.

Eligible households rent apartments or homes in Belmont, have reduced income because of COVID-19, and earn less than 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). Priority will be given to households at less than 60 percent AMI.

The initial program deadline for applications is August 14. Applications will be taken after that date and added to a waiting list. Information about applying can be found on the Belmont Town website at

Housing Trust Applaud Increase In Affordable Units At ‘Final’ McLean Parcel

Photo: Northland Residential President and CEO John Dawley

You know you are doing something “right” when the same group that jeered you earlier is now cheering.

That’s what occurred at the Select Board’s meeting Monday, Nov. 18 after Northland Residential President and CEO John Dawley presented a revised residential development proposal at one of largest parcels remaining in Belmont’s McLean Hospital.

After coming under fire for a proposal critics called a “cut and paste” of its three existing developments at McLean, Northland’s revised blueprint for its fourth development in Zone 3 boosting the number of affordable units as well as provide housing to a broader spectrum of both income and population.

“I’m here tonight to try and be responsive to the voices that spoke at various meetings back in March on a project that appears to be responsive to the concerns that were articulated,” said Dawley Monday night.

The announcement brought praise from the representatives of the Belmont Housing Trust which has been a driving force in expanding economical living units in town.

“I’m really excited about this proposal and this is, indeed, a big win for Belmont,” said Trust Co-Chair Rachel Heller.

In January, Dawley’s firm presented to the town plans to build a “senior directed, independent living residential community” on nearly 13 acres of land set aside for housing when Town Meeting approved a mixed-use development program with McLean two decades ago in July 1999.

Similar to the Northland’s Woodlands development on the site, the project consisted of 34 large 2-to-3 bedroom townhouses with a sales price of upwards of $1.5 million along with 91 “flat” 1-to-2 bedroom apartments located in four-story buildings.

That first proposal was widely panned by affordable housing advocates and in March was quickly shelved by the Belmont Planning Board as it deemed the project was unlikely to pass Town Meeting’s two-thirds muster to alter six zoning bylaws required by the town.

“It was the belief, mistaken as it may have been, that replicating what I did on those parcels would be appropriate for Zone 3,” he said “I left on March 13, wounded but not dead.”

Fast forward nearly eight months and Dawley came before the Select Board after meeting with the town and housing advocates who asked Northland to take its plan “and think of it in a different way.” He spoke to his McLean partners telling them “I think I can make this work.”

The new proposal will be of the same scale and massing as presented in March but the project’s programming has been changed resulting in a broader income and age component, said Dawley:

  • The original 125 units has been increased to 144 total units with 40 townhouses and 104 apartments located in a pair of structures.
  • The garden style units will all be rentals, smaller than originally designed as condominiums. There will be no age restriction on the units A quarter of the apartments, 26, will be under the town’s exclusionary housing allocation.
  • The townhouses – which will be senior directed – will have reduced square-footage to lower the initial price with five or six units set aside as affordable.
  • The project will commit to LEED Certifiable Design Standard while focusing on “electrification.”
  • Traffic in and out of the new residential with a traffic light at Olmsted and Pleasant across from Star Market. There will also be shuttle bus from the area to a transportation hub such as Waverley Square and/or Alewife T station.

While Dawley cautioned the proposal is in its genesis and will undergo changes and “times where I’ll have to say ‘no’ to requests’,” the response from housing campaigners and the Select Board was enthusiastic and positive, as those in attendance gave Dawley a round of applause at the end of his presentation.

“I really appreciate that rather than walk away, they chose to engage with us and work with us,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

“Northland’s proposed development at McLean will expand opportunities for seniors and families to have an affordable place to call home here in Belmont,” said Heller, whose day job is running the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, which encourage the production and preservation of housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income families.

“Providing more affordable homeownership and rental opportunities is key to meeting the needs of people who live, work, or go to school here as well as ensuring that Belmont is a welcoming and inclusive community,” she added.

Planning Board Shelves McLean Residential Project As Affordability Takes Center Stage

Photo: The Planning Board in session.

A proposed 125 unit residential development on one of the last large parcels of open space in Belmont was shelved by the Belmont Planning Board as questions of affordability, density and other issues were raised by residents and board members.

“We don’t have the time” to satisfactory review the proposal before a Town Meeting vote, said Board Chair Chuck Clark at the Thursday, March 14 meeting as the board voted unanimously to not bring six bylaw changes to the town’s annual legislative gathering.

The postponement is a victory for affordable housing campaigners who contend the McLean Hospital Zone 3 project is the one best and likely final opportunities to bring a substantial number of accessible units into the town’s housing inventory.

“Let’s slow this down so we all can get to and work together,” said Rachel Heller, co-chairman of the Belmont Housing Trust, which has been advocating for greater income diverse housing through public policy – securing the town’s Housing Production Plan – and with growing activism. 

The delay is a blow to property owner McLean Hospital and Northland Residential, the proposed developer, which were seeking a positive vote at the annual Town Meeting in May to expedite the construction of what a Northland executive called an “age directed” project on nearly 13 acres of land set aside for housing when Town Meeting approved a mixed-use development plan with McLean nearly two decades ago in July 1999.

While the proponents pointed to the success of the nearby Northland-developed The Woodlands as being replicated on Zone 3, board vice chair Stephen Pinkerton said: “there are a lot of issues in terms of density and interest in affordable housing that need to be vetted among a half a dozen entities in town.”

“This won’t pass [Town Meeting] by a two-thirds majority” as Pinkerton motioned to the residents filling the Selectmen’s Room, suggesting the process be “paused.” 

Clark told the Belmontonian the Planning Board will ask the Belmont Board of Selectmen to create a task force with “everybody” including the Housing Trust, residents in addition to McLean “to figure this out.”

“I see this come back to Town Meeting in the fall,” said Clark, referring to an anticipated Special Town Meeting that typically takes place in November. “I suspect we’ll come to an agreement, it will just take a while.”

While campaigners did not have specific numbers or percentages of units, advocates said they are available to assist McLean and Northland either by introducing established affordable developers to partner with the proponents or work independently.

“A task force will create the opportunity for all these voices to be heard and then really think how to develop something that’s beneficial for McLean meets the town’s needs,” said Heller.

The question now hanging over the stalled development is if McLean and Northland will accept a new round of negotiations that could result in a greater affordability component.

McLean and the developer both noted in their presentations Thursday night the nearly 13 acres is currently zoned to accommodate approximately 500 apartment-style units in a high-density complex that includes buildings upwards to six stories tall and generating considerable vehicle traffic.

But it’s unlikely McLean would go that route and the developer admitted the “bankability” of such large assisted living/care complexes has waned considerably in the past decade.

The development – located on the southern ridge of the hospital close to Star Market and Pleasant Street – would be a “senior directed independent living residential community” consisting of 34 large 2 to 3 bedroom townhouses with a sales price of upwards of $1.5 million similar to those in the adjacent Woodlands along with 91 “flat” 1 to 2 bedroom apartments located in four-story buildings. The complex would provide town coffers with $1.6 million in added tax revenue.

Under a revised plan, 20 apartments would be designated “affordable” for those making 80 percent of the area median income (for a two-person family, an 80 percent AMI would be $63,050), an increase from a proposed 9 units that target buyers with an AMI as high as 120 percent ($94,550 for a two-family household). 

When the meeting was thrown open to public comment, it was quickly evident that despite a doubling of the number of affordable units in Zone 3, housing advocates felt, as Heller noted, “we can do a lot better.”

With Belmont still 337 units short of the state’s goal of 10 percent affordable housing. McLean is “one of the few if the only way for the town to get to that 10 percent,” said Heller, who said that rather than townhouses, the community needs more rental units as more than 40 percent of Belmont renters are “cost-burdened” as housing costs take more than a third of their income.

Gloria Leipzig of the Belmont Housing Authority noted the 40-unit Waverley Woods, designated in the 1999 agreement for low and moderate income housing, was built on 1.4 acres, “eight times” the space being proposed for the Zone 3 development.

“Certainly more than 34 large townhouses and 90 [apartments] can be built on this property,” she said.

Squandering The Potential 

As the land was “laid aside for specific community needs,” once a development proposal is adopted, “we can’t take this zoning back,” said Joseph Zarro, pastor of Belmont’s Plymouth Church. “I think we’d be squandering the potential of this land” under the proposed project.”

One resident commented on a statement by a Northland executive who said the new townhouses that would likely sell for $1.5 million was built “for folks that look like me and you.” Elizabeth Lipson of the Housing Trust said she is sensitive to “dog whistle” comments that housing in Belmont should be built with a certain income level in mind.

“One of the objectives of many of us is to diversify our town by income and … also by race,” said Lipson, who found the comment “upsetting.” 

Throwing another wrench into the works was a legal ruling brought forth by attorney Roger Colton who noted a 2002 ruling by the state’s Land Court against the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (American Retirement Corp vs  et al) limiting both boards “to make its own interpretation of what was ‘best’ for the town” which should be left “to the legislative process.”

With issues of housing diversity, density and a sticking point that the bylaw changes would benefit the current proposal but not alter the existing zoning map, leaving the possibility of a future developer to build to the approved level of nearly 500 units, Clark said there was no chance the board could resolve any of the outstanding issues by the end of the month.

“There are too many moving parts,” he said.

Nearly lost in the residential development discussion was McLean’s earlier proposal to construct a campus for children and adolescence education and a research and development center on an adjacent parcel located to the northeast. Known as Zone 4, the development will not start for upwards to five years as the hospital raises funds for the project, said Michele Gougeon, McLean’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Eventually, the site will include a combined academic and residential building and a “small” Research and Development building which will fit inside a 150,000 sq.-ft. envelop.

Clark noted in past agreements, due to the R&D portion is being reduced by more than half of the original, the town could be obligated to pay McLean for that change, a statement Gougeon said would need to be reviewed.

By the end of the night, Clark believed there will be a solution to the issues face all parties.

“I think McLean can do better. I think Belmont can do better,” said Clark.

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.

Housing Trust’s Meeting On Increasing Housing Options Thurs. Apr. 27

Photo: Housing affordability thrust of Housing Trust’s meeting.

Next week, the Belmont Housing Trust will host a public meeting to discuss its Housing Production Plan, which provides a five-year framework and strategy for the development of a variety of housing options to meet the needs of the Belmont residents.

Cosponsored by the League of Woman Voters, the meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 27 at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.

“We’re excited to gather final public input and comments on Belmont’s housing future. The high level of interest in this month’s town election suggests people are really thinking about what we need to do, going forward, to make Belmont a more livable place for all,” said Judie Feins, co-chair of the Housing Trust.

In community meetings over the past year, residents participated in discussions about “imagining Belmont’s housing future,” identifying their interests and concerns about housing in Belmont. Their input was combined with a Housing Needs Assessment based on demographics and economic data to develop the Housing Production Plan, which details production goals and strategies aimed at meeting those needs.

The draft Housing Production Plan is available here.

Participants Thursday will provide additional input before the Plan is finalized and submitted to town officials for approval and action.

The Housing Needs Assessment noted that Belmont’s population continues to rise modestly, with a forecasted need for housing for seniors and new families, including rentals and community housing. Housing costs in Belmont have increased more than 40 percent since 2009, making Belmont less accessible for lower and moderate income households. 

In addition, while nearly a quarter of Belmont households are eligible for affordable housing, only seven percent of Belmont’s housing units are considered affordable. Belmont’s housing is also generally quite old and may have significant maintenance needs.

Massachusetts requires cities and towns to have affordable housing of at least 10 percent of total housing units.  Affordable housing is defined as housing that is affordable to households earning less than 80 percent of Area Median Income – $51,150 for a single person household. 

Once the town’s newest and largest housing developments, Royal Belmont and Cushing Village, are completed, the town will remain 337 units short of the 10 percent benchmark. 

The primary goal of the Housing Production Plan is to identify opportunities to create these 337 affordable units. Those units should, however, meet the needs reflected in the recent assessment. Thus the Plan proposes to create housing for seniors, new families, and for lower income households.


The Plan has identified several strategies, including the development of housing near transportation centers, leveraging opportunities on public land, supporting redevelopment of industrial sites, revitalizing existing community housing, and networking with Belmont residents, organizations, property owners and local businesses. 

Housing Trust’s First-Time Homebuyer Program Now Taking Application

Photo: Belmont’s first-time homebuyers assistance program.

Belmont’s Housing Trust has created a First-Time Homebuyer Assistance Program (HAP) to help low- and moderate-income families purchase homes in town. The HAP program will help participants purchase a condominium, single-family or two-family home. 

Three eligible households, picked by lottery, will receive financial assistance using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding to purchase homes with a maximum sales price of:

  • $289,300 for a one-bedroom,
  • $341,000 for a two-bedroom, or
  • $362,600 for a three-bedroom unit.

There are income limits: for example:

  • a two-person household can have income up to $55,800.
  • a four-person household can have income up to $69,700.

And buyers must agree to a long-term deed restriction on the property purchased, to keep it affordable for future purchasers. 

Applications are available now by contacting Jennifer at Metro West Collaborative Development, Inc. at 617-923-3505 x 4 or or visit its website.  

There will be informational meetings on Thursday, April 30, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, June 6 at 10 a.m. at the Belmont Public Library, Flett Room. 

Applications are due by June 15, and lottery will be held on June 23.

Housing Trust’s CPA Affordable Housing Plan Gets Mixed Results

For the majority of articles being brought before the Belmont Town Meeting tonight, Monday, May 5, the Warrant Committee and the Board of Selectmen are of one mind; they will be nodding in sync approvingly with nearly all the proposals facing the approximate 300 representatives.

But there is one article where the two groups have decided to take diverging paths on the Community Preservation Committee’s $375,000 grant to the Belmont Housing Trust’s first-time homebuyer’s proposal.

The plan will help three homebuyers –  it would target those making less than 80 percent of the area median household income which is approximately $92,000 – to lower their mortgages by approximately $125,000 each to make them affordable. In return, the three units will remain affordable “in perpetuity” due to a deed restriction that limits the amount the homeowner can receive in a resale.

“There are six units of this same housing in Belmont, on Oakley and B Street,” noted Gloria Leipzig, the Housing Trust’s vice chair at a Warrant Briefing meeting in April.

While the Warrant Committee – which is the Town Meeting’s financial watchdog – voted overwhelmingly against the plan by 10-3 in April, the Belmont Board of Selectmen, in a two to one vote, will be supporting the proposal when it comes before the Town Meeting likely at Monday’s first night.

The disagreement between backers of the Housing Trust’s initiative and those opposed is not based on support of affordable housing as all members believe that Belmont should push to increase the supply of this housing – Belmont has about 300 units or 3.8 percent of the total housing stock.

Rather it’s the approach the Housing Trust hopes to use to increase affordable housing that has come under fire. According to several Warrant Committee members and Selectman Sami Baghdady, using nearly $400,000 to move a limited number of people into moderate-rate housing is simply not cost effective.

With Belmont nearly 600 units away from reach the state’s goal of 10 percent affordability in housing (which will also prohibit developers from using the Chapter 40B law allowing developers of affordable housing to override most town zoning bylaws and other requirements), the money would better be spent as part of a larger expenditure to build a great number of units or on other causes. 

“[The Community Preservation Act] is all tax money and it shouldn’t be used as a slush fund” for ineffective programs, said Baghdady at a May 1 Selectmen’s meeting.

Supporters of the CPA request contend that any increase in housing is better than staying pat on this societal problem.

“Our goal is to increase the number of affordable housing in Belmont, just to show the state we are trying to meet its requirements,” said Leipzig. 

For Selectman Mark Paolillo, the realization that the town may “never” meet the 10 percent goal doesn’t mean that the town should seek the perfect at the expense of doing nothing.

“It’s not perfect but I support the concept,” said Paolillo.

“We need to show our commitment to affordability and this is a fairly easy way to do it,” said Selectmen’s chair Andy Rojas.