WEST NEWBURY – The benefits of establishing an affordable city housing trust were explored in a virtual forum hosted by the Planning Board on Tuesday.
Shelly Goehring, of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, spoke to board members and residents about how housing trusts can work and what steps she recommends taking if city officials decide to ‘move forward with this initiative.
At the end of Goehring’s presentation, the board agreed that the topic deserved further study.
âWe have to keep this on the agenda,â said Ray Cook, board member. President Tim Cronin agreed, saying he was unaware of the flexibility these trusts have.
The Massachusetts Housing Partnership, established in 1985, works with communities to create political and financial solutions to provide affordable housing.
The partnership offered technical assistance on 40B programs to communities; $ 1 billion in loans for over 22,000 homes; first-time home purchase assistance and affordable rentals; and a database for creating effective policies.
Goehring said a municipal affordable housing trust not only helps meet a city’s housing needs, but also supports local control of housing initiatives, buying and selling property in a timely manner without requiring a municipal assembly vote and by collecting money from various sources to finance its mission.
The trust would be governed by a local board of directors consisting of at least five members, including one person from the board of directors.
Goehring said the trust acts as “an instrument of city government”.
Even the smallest communities are looking for ways to create affordable housing and invest local money to support them, she noted. Of the state’s 120 communities with housing trusts, 80% have also passed the Community Preservation Act land surcharge, a source of local funding used in part for affordable housing.
When setting up a housing trust fund account, trustees would also consider other resources such as payments in lieu of taxes, cell phone tower rental payments, and tax exemptions.
A majority vote at a city assembly builds confidence, but Goehring recommends first discussing whether to approve the state statute as written or create a local bylaw more specific to the needs. from West Newbury. Once voters approve, it must be submitted to the state attorney general’s office within 30 days.
Goehring emphasized the need for planning and organization to ensure the success of a housing trust. Trustees should decide what they want to accomplish, determine the city’s housing needs, set priorities and develop benchmarks, she advised.
Once housing needs have been identified, the board can set goals to meet them. But Goehring urged the all-volunteer board to be realistic about its capacity to work.
âInstead of doing everything sloppy, focus on a few good little things,â she suggested, stressing that âit really takes teamworkâ.
She also recommended budgeting for some administrative staff, as typical municipal staff are usually not able to take on the additional role. The composition of the trust is essential, agreed the members of the board of directors.
âIt’s all about having that core of individuals,â Cronin said.
Goehring proposed to review the state of local infrastructure and the resources offered by these spaces.
Many communities have been successful in reallocating properties – like 25 family rental units at Shoe Shop Place in Middleborough; 42 family rental units at Stevens Corner in North Andover; 38 rentals with age restrictions in a school building in Swampscott; and 10 senior housing rental units on surplus church land in Goshen.
To find out more on the web: mhp.net.