WHILE ECONOMIC RECOVERY takes hold across many Massachusetts communities, residents of the city of Chelsea, the epicenter of the pandemic in the state, continue to experience acute housing and economic instability, exacerbated by structural racism and the lack of affordable rental housing and homeownership opportunities. In order to help residents remain stably housed, communities like Chelsea need effective tools that promote the development of affordable housing opportunities.
Gateway City officials in a recent commentary piece and Gov. Maura Healey in her tax and spending plan are backing a state program, known as the Housing Development Incentive Program, or HDIP, as a tool to create much needed affordable housing. Strikingly, as revealed in a new report from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), the exact opposite is true.
HDIP promotes the creation of market-rate housing and, as designed, excludes projects where more than 20 percent of housing units are considered affordable. The results of the program are staggering. As MLRI’s report reveals, only 2 percent of units created through HDIP are affordable.
Across Chelsea, over half of renters are housing cost-burdened, with almost 1 in 3 households spending more than half their income on rent. These residents are the “essential workers” who fueled our economy through the pandemic. As families face inflation and rising rents, many of the housing units traditionally built with HDIP are completely out of reach. Moreover, incentivizing market rate, often luxury, housing development without providing municipalities the option to meaningfully increase affordable housing stock risks accelerating a torrent of displacement across Chelsea and the Greater Boston region.
Lifting the 20 percent program cap on affordable housing units, along with other common sense reforms, is essential to ensuring HDIP includes low and moderate income residents as beneficiaries of the program. It’s imperative that these changes are codified before the program experiences an unprecedented increase in funding.
We applaud Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett for filing a critical bill to address this cap, in unison with legislative action by Sen. James Eldridge of Acton and a bill filed by Rep. Peter Capano of Lynn. These bills warrant strong support if we’re serious about meaningfully increasing affordable housing, preventing displacement, and remaining economically competitive.
The city of Chelsea and our community-based partners are determined to dramatically increase the number of affordable rental apartments and affordable home ownership opportunities in the community. We want our residents to be able to remain, prosper, and experience long-term stability in the community they love and contribute to. These key bills would afford communities like Chelsea the ability to leverage HDIP to produce even greater affordable housing, providing greater opportunities for residents to remain in Chelsea. Without this reform, HDIP is not a tool that supports the creation of housing for low and moderate income residents, nor one that meaningfully addresses the affordability crisis we are facing.
Alex Train is director of the Department of Housing & Community Development, Ana Sofia Amieva-Wang is senior project manager of housing and economic stability, and Karl Allen is an economic development planner — all for the city of Chelsea. Gladys Vega is executive director of La Colaborativa and Rep. Judith Garcia represents Chelsea and part of Everett.