By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD – At the spring Annual Town Meeting, the Town Council will sponsor the adoption of a state statute and a local bylaw that will result in the creation of a “Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund” (MAHTF) in Wakefield.
Municipal affordable housing trusts allow municipalities to collect funds for affordable housing, segregate them out of the general municipal budget into a trust fund, and utilize these funds for local initiatives to create and preserve affordable housing.
In Massachusetts, the passage of M.G.L. Chapter 44, Section 55c in 2005 enabled municipalities to begin more actively creating housing trust funds to support the advancement of local affordable housing goals.
Town Councilors Robert Vincent and Michael McLane have been working for several months with Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio and Town Counsel Thomas Mullen on a proposal for a Wakefield Municipal Affordable Housing Trust. They used a PowerPoint presentation at last week’s meeting to outline their findings and recommendations.
Since 2005, 136 municipalities in Massachusetts have enacted an MAHTF, Vincent noted.
Wakefield’s Housing Production Plan 2015-2020 notes that Wakefield has collected funding to support affordable housing through a number of avenues, with about $760,000 remaining available. However, the Town does not have a municipal entity that is charged with overseeing affordable housing issues that would have a specific plan for spending this funding in the most strategic ways.
That’s where a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust would come in, Vincent and McLane explained. The following recommendation from the Wakefield Housing Production Plan was cited:
“The Town should establish a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund through a Town warrant article and appoint members to the Board of Trustees. This Housing Trust would serve as the Town’s permanent committee for overseeing housing issues and the implementation of the Housing Production Plan, managing the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, defining policy issues that are in the public interest, potentially serving as the Town’s development review committee, and also working with the Planning Board on establishing new zoning to promote affordable housing.”
The local MAHT trustees would work with the Town Council to access new housing resources, such as the HOME Investment Partnership Program (HUD federal Program) and Community Development Block Grants Funds. The trust would also support zoning changes and work closely with Planning Board to prepare zoning amendments and establish working relationship with Planning Board and ZBA on developments that include affordable housing, providing technical assistance and financial support and advocacy as appropriate. The local trustees would be the first point of contact for developers to obtain feedback on preliminary project plans for development that include affordable housing.
Last week’s presentation also covered zoning and affordable housing production strategies that could be employed once the MAHT is in place. Many of the strategies come directly from the town’s Housing Production Plan. Those strategies include pursuing opportunities for mixed use and transit-oriented development with Planning Board, working with the Town Council and Planning Board to make suitable public property available for affordable housing, and conducting feasibility study analyses of town owned parcels that may be suitable for some amount of affordable housing.
Working with the Town Council and ZBA to promote friendly 40B development is seen as another benefit of a local MAHT. (Developers who want to work with the town on “friendly 40Bs” would contact the Housing Trust as first step in the development process to present their conceptual plans and get feedback.)
Additional strategies include working with Planning Board to support infill housing development. (Infill housing is the insertion of additional housing units into an already-approved subdivision or neighborhood.)
Another strategy would be creating affordable homeownership opportunities for low and moderate-income first-time homebuyers through development or direct assistance, including with down payment and closing costs. An MAHT could also support the creation of affordable and accessible housing units to help address needs of senior citizens and disabled households.
It was noted that the recommended strategies and responsibilities for the Municipal Housing Trust outlined in the town’s 2015-2020 Housing Production Plan are still relevant today, although some may require minor tweaks.
The Town Council voted to support the adoption of the relevant Mass. General Laws Chapter 44 Section 55C as an article at the 2023 Annual Town Meeting, and to support a proposed local MAHT bylaw.