Newton needs affordable housing. The median prices for a single-family home in Newton is now estimated to be $1.2 million. That doesn’t work for young families drawn to our excellent schools, for the workers in our local businesses, or for our senior population.
My 20 years on the City Council has prepared me to guide Newton through this complicated issue of how to provide affordable housing.
My husband and I were originally drawn to Newton because of its excellent education, proximity to Boston, it’s beautiful neighborhoods and its cultural diversity. We were lucky. Despite a limited budget, we found a two-family fixer-upper so we could use rental income to help with the mortgage. But that option isn’t as readily available today.
The loss of smaller homes due to tear-downs and McMansions combined with limited supply of buildable land has made it more difficult for people to find affordable housing opportunities in this City. We have an increasing senior population and more young families want to move to the City to take advantage of our excellent school system and City services. In order for the City to address housing affordability, the City needs to step up and intervene – put forth policies and programs in place to assist with the preservation and creation of affordable housing opportunities.
What can we do to improve? A lot. As I’ve advocated over the years, the City needs to adopt a multi-pronged approach to address and meet the demand for affordable housing. Here’s my 10 point plan:
1. Continue to use of CPA funding to create affordable housing opportunities including supporting non-profit development proposals that re-use and renovate existing housing stock while adding appropriately scaled density to existing neighborhoods throughout the City.
2. Create partnerships with the real estate community to identify housing opportunities throughout the City and work with the Newton Housing Authority and non-profit developers to acquire these units and add them to our permanently affordable housing inventory.
3. Amend the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to require a proposed development to allocate 25% of its units towards affordable housing.
4. Create a municipal housing trust fund. Utilizing CPA funds and Inclusionary Zoning payments, a municipal housing trust fund can be created utilizing other funding sources as well including: negotiated developer fees, tax title sales, private donations, cell tower lease payments and the allocations from the general fund. A municipal housing trust can assist in the financing of affordable housing development, rehabilitate existing homes and convert them to affordable housing, increase affordability in new housing developments, preserve properties with expiring affordability restrictions, fund programs that assist low- and moderate- income homebuyers, develop more affordable housing initiatives.
5. Real Estate Excise tax (McMansion Tax). Consider a tax on real estate transfers to fund affordable housing. Lobby our State Representatives to allow for local option to impose a real estate transfer tax in order to fund a housing trust fund (see above) to create affordable housing opportunities.
6. Create a voluntary fund for City businesses. Model the City of Seattle’s plan to engage City business owners and non-profits to contribute to a voluntary fund to create affordable housing opportunities for their workers as well as others.
7. Protect displacement. As our City continues to evolve, gentrification and pressure on existing housing stock, can cause rent increases and displacement of low-income renters and homeowners. We need to develop policies and programs that assist existing homeowners and renters to stay in their homes and stay in our City.
• Reinstitute a Homebuyer Assistance Program
• Create a Rental Assistance program that provides information on different programs that partner with financial institutions and other organizations to conduct outreach, provide counseling and assist in negotiating and restructuring loans where possible.
8. Commit to a 10-year plan that creates and preserves a certain number of affordable housing opportunities each year. Working with the community and City Planning staff, let’s work together to create a plan that will actually help Newton provide housing options for all.
9. Demand more from developers. We need to get serious about the need to increase the percentage of affordable housing that is created in this City and negotiate for higher percentages of affordable units in our larger housing development projects.
10. Preserve existing naturally affordable housing stock. The problem is not simply the loss of these smaller sized homes which serve as entry points for young families, but is also what is allowed to be built in its place – which are not just a little more expensive – but a lot more expensive – making Newton less and less affordable.
I know, that together, we can create the kind of Newton we want and make Newton affordable for everyone.