Changing Swampscott demographics will demand affordable housing

May 21–A public presentation on the senior housing development project at the old Machon Elementary School and state of affordable housing on the North Shore will take place Tuesday, June 5 in the Swampscott Senior Center, 200R Essex St., from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

B’nai B’rith Housing, a regional nonprofit housing developer that’s transforming the Machon School into 38 senior housing units, organized the community gathering. Organizers are billing the mid-morning discussion “a bagel briefing” because bagels will be served to attendees. To attend, RSVP to 617-238-6089 by Tuesday, May 29.

“As the population in Massachusetts ages, it is more critical than ever for communities to provide quality, affordable housing for our seniors,” reads a leaflet promoting the 90-minute discussion. “We are excited about our latest development, Senior Residences at the Machon.”

A Swampscott Housing Production Plan published in 2016 indicates the town’s residents are growing older and will continue to do so over the next decade. That changing demographic demands affordable housing here.

“The over-65 population will nearly double by 2030, while the school-age population will increase modestly,” reads the production plan. “Almost half of senior households have an annual gross income of less than $40,000.”

Moreover, the production plan reads ownership and rental housing is not affordable for many. Median sales prices are nearing all-time highs, and median rents are significantly higher than fair-market rent for all unit types.

The Machon’s redevelopment into senior housing and upcoming forum comes as Swampscott continues to take steps and explore ways to, as the production plan put it: “Create opportunities to develop a more diverse housing stock — affordable and market rate — to met the needs of a changing demographic profile in the town.”

State law defines affordable housing units as housing developed or operated by a public or private entity and reserved by deed restriction for income-eligible households earning at or below 80 percent of the area median income. Only 3.7 percent of housing in Swampscott is classified as affordable — well below the state-mandated 10 percent threshold.

“Swampscott has not achieved this threshold,” reads the production plan. “As of October 2015, only 212 [affordable] housing units, or 3.7 percent, of 5,795 year-round units were included in the Swampscott Housing inventory.”

Swampscott Housing Authority operates 128 affordable-housing units, of which 92 serve seniors and people with disabilities and 36 for families, across four different locations.

“The 59-unit Bertram House includes 59 unites of senior housing,” reads the production plan. “The remaining 25 units include 2 ownership units, and 23 group home units operated by [Massachusetts] Department of Developmental Services and Department of Mental Health.”

With that count, Swampscott possesses the second lowest amount of affordable housing stock, falling behind Marblehead and in front of Nahant, when juxtaposed to other area communities.

The 2017 Town Meeting warrant indicates Swampscott’s 3.7 percent will “significantly drop” after the federal government conducts and publishes 2020 Census numbers due to a Swampscott

To start to remedy the situation, the May 2017 Town Meeting amended zoning bylaws when representatives adopted inclusionary housing regulations aimed at encouraging affordable housing development.

The change, in part, requires 10 percent of private development projects of a certain size be devoted to affordable housing. Under the new regulations, a developer can donate to the Swampscott Affordable Housing Trust Fund in lieu of physically developing or devoting units affordable housing. The town anticipates the trust fund’s first donation, one of $150,000, from Groom Construction for its Greenwood Avenue development project.

Selectman Naomi Dreeben has said the trust’s role is “to allocate funds in the trust for the purposes of developing affordable housing in the town.”

In October, Swampscott Board of Selectmen appointed what Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald described as “an all-star team” of six residents, including an alternate member, to oversee and administer the trust fund.

Since October, members have educated themselves about Swampscott’s existing and needed affordable housing, potential partnerships and opportunities to develop more using the trust’s funds. In the group’s Thursday meeting, members got a crash course from the North Shore Habitat for Humanity executive director, in part, on how the nonprofit partners with municipal governments to develop affordable housing.

Alongside that nonprofit, members said they also see potential in partnering with Swampscott Housing Authority. They’re also busy exploring revenue sources to bring more funds into the trust.

This article provided by NewsEdge.