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Looking at the Future of Affordable Housing in Lexington

At Cary Memorial Library last Thursday, June 21, Senior Planner Aaron Henry led a forum that examines Lexington's affordable housing plans for the future.

Crafting a housing production plan (HPP) in-tuned with the state's affordable housing requirements was the purpose of a housing forum held last Thursday night at Cary Library and headed up by Aaron Henry, Lexington's senior planner.

Under Chapter 40B, Massachusetts municipalities must have 10 percent of homes available at "affordable" rates. Currently, 11.3 percent of Lexington homes fall into this criteria, and the town even has 134 affordable housing units over the state required minimum.

Henry referred to this supply of affordable homes as "tremendous." However, he later added the caveat that "housing has gotten more contentous recently," and the town "could do nothing [regarding affordable housing] and potentially be okay."

Thursday's forum was to announce that during the summer months, Henry and the Planning Department, in conjunction with Metro West Collabortive Development, a non-profit out of Watertown that aids in affordable housing initiatives, will be developing a draft plan of how to handle the future of afforable housing in Lexington.

"The bulk of our work, the meat and potatoes, over the summer months will be data collection and outreach," said Henry. "Data collection and outreach" are a way of gathering information from Town employees and other residents in order to develop a sound HPP, he added.

Outreach

Heading this "outreach" will be Metro West's Jennifer VanCampen, who has already aided the initiative by helping the Planning Department gather a $60,000 state grant for this project.

VanCampen said she'll do "anything and everything to get the word out" to those who have interest and thoughts, about affordable housing. "Those who hate the idea of afforable housing, those that love it, we want to hear about it," she said.

VanCampen will be canvassing neighborhoods and popping up at various town and residential meetings to gather information throught the summer months. The culmination of her efforts will be a public hearing on the issue sometime in October or November before the HPP is due in December.

Metro West already has a survey up for Lexington residents interested in helping her gather information which can be taken at www.surveymonkey.com. Residents can also call VanCampen at 617-923-3505.

Current State of Affordable Housing and How to Proceed?

There are currently nine afforable housing units in the works in Lexington. Three are in Lexington Courtyard, four are in Greeley Village, with one at Jefferson Union and one on East Street. Occupation of these units are expected to take place between the Fall 2012 to 2014.

Although Lexington is curently over its percentage when it comes to afforable housing, Henry's forum is looking decades down the line at what needs to be done to keep that standard.

According to Henry, the HPP is to create a "safe harbor" for Chapter 40B in Lexington. Through Henry's power-point presentation, he explained ways to keep Lexington in the pink concerning this issue through at least 2018, if not further.

"It's community by choice, not by chance," was the slogan used to describe the HPP initiative by Henry.

Preliminary needs detailed in Henry's presentation surrounded the facts that one in three households in Lexington are eligible for afforable housing, compounded by an aging population and a tumultuous and costly overall housing market.

The way to meet these needs at the moment are, according to Henry, "very loose and with room for more ideas."

The preliminary production scenarios for the HPP varied according to Henry which he detailed in four parts:

A.) The town could draw down its "reserve" of 134 units.

B.) Maintain the status quo; an ad hoc building program producing at least a unit per year with perhaps occassionally more.

C.) The town could opt to "freeze" the reserve at its current number, by producing just enough (10 percent) afforable housing to offset new market growth.

D.) The town could elect to increase the reserve by producing afforable housing in excess of 10 percent of new market growth.

Henry expressed that "C" was his favorite idea thus far, which he called a, "decent middle ground" between building too much or to little afforable housing units.

What Now?

For residents, the time to supply Henry, the Planning Department and Metro West with information regarding Lexington's stance on afforable housing is now.

Expect to see VanCampen canvasing both homes and popular gatherings to get the word out about the HPP due in December.

Although nothing is up on the site at the moment, Henry explained that residents will soon be able to go to the Planning Department's website, where all the data and ideas Henry has so far accrued will be their for public consumption. There you will also find contact information about how to get invovled with this communal effort.

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