Housing Production Plan:
a comprehensive strategy

By Richard Fahlander - Correspondent

Housing has been a hot topic in town since longer than anyone can remember. Maybe it started at Concord’s founding when Europeans “purchased” land from indigenous people; or when the railroad rolled into town; or with the arrival of post-WW II subdivisions; or the town’s current reputation as a great place to live. No matter the origin, rising property values make it nearly impossible to find an affordable domicile in Concord today as the real estate market marches toward larger and more luxurious homes. Buildable lots are few and building restrictions many.

To address this conundrum, the Town has commissioned a Housing Production Plan, a comprehensive strategy for planning and developing affordable housing. The draft plan notes that, “For over 50 years, the Town’s boards and committees have worked to increase housing diversity in Town. There have been consistent concerns expressed about preserving economic and social diversity, along with a diversity of the housing stock, while remaining mindful of the Town’s rural and historic traditions, including preservation of open spaces. High land prices contribute to ever-increasing housing costs, which make the Town unaffordable to many who currently reside in the community, as well as those who would like to move into the community.”

Liz Rust, Director of the Regional Housing Services Office, said the plan is “an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page.” To get on that same page required consultants, workshops attended by more than 100 people, a community survey with 428 responses, and a 152 page report.

Concord’s 2015 Housing Production Plan expired in January 2021, and is being updated to regain state approval.

The Town’s best projections are that in 2023 Concord will fall below the 10% goal of affordable housing as required under Chapter 40B – a state law that allows developers to build multi-family housing when a community does not have a minimum of 10% affordable housing. The Town wants to have an approved housing plan in place by that time to give the Town a measure of control over potential 40B developments.

According to the draft plan 10.43% of Concord’s housing, or 715 units, is recorded on the state’s affordable housing inventory. However, half of these units are actually market rate (due to counting rules for rental properties) reducing the actual affordable inventory to 5.21%. In addition, single-family home prices are rising faster than income in the last decade. Median income has risen 34%, and the median home price 70%.

In addition to meeting the State requirements, the five- year plan presents a number of housing goals including:

5 Year Plan for Housing Goals
Support healthy aging in the community by expanding the range of affordable and intergenerational housing options.
Increase the variety of rental and ownership housing options, particularly near transit stations, sewered areas, and village centers.
Ensure that new development promotes protection of natural resources and climate change adaptation and resilience.
Assist in stabilizing housing and provide services for Concord’s most vulnerable residents – especially those living in inadequate housing conditions, or at risk of homelessness.
Encourage the preservation of existing smaller homes and the construction of new smaller homes, especially as permanently affordable homes for low-income families.
Foster community outreach and education to develop a mindset of diversity, equity, and inclusion about the need for affordable housing throughout the community.
Strengthen working partnerships with organizations focused on addressing housing needs in Concord and the region.
Preserve the long-term affordability of existing affordable units.
To Achieve these ambitious goals, the plan outlines 26 implementation strategies to consider – highlights include:
Continue to pursue the creation of affordable units at the 12-acre site in West Concord (Junction Village).
Acquisition of other land for the creation of affordable housing, such as at 2229 Main Street, 740 Elm Street, or the Peabody Middle School.
Amend zoning to reduce the minimum lot size or frontage requirements for all forms of housing, where environmental conditions allow.
Allow attached accessory dwelling units by right in all districts where they meet minimum criteria and detached units by special permit.
Allow duplexes by right in all zones, with a restriction on overall massing, scale, and appearance as a single-family home.
Promote redevelopment in areas where goods and services are available near transportation or transit, such as the Thoreau Depot Business District and the West Concord Depot including zoning consistent with MBTA communities law.
Identify strategies to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the town’s housing planning, policies, and zoning bylaws.
Negotiate increased affordable units in privately developed projects in future development opportunities or create affordable units using existing moderate units.
Analyze opportunities to create new units on concord housing authority properties, and designate capital funding toward construction.
Explore opportunities for strategic supportive infrastructure for new housing, such as sewers, sidewalks, bike lanes, public transportation, and first-last mile connections to transit.

Liz Rust explained that, while the Housing Production Plan is not binding, it is a useful tool for anyone interested promoting a more diverse housing stock and it doesn’t preclude the possibility of other initiatives should unique opportunities arise.

The most recent draft of the Housing Production Plan can be found here. Public comments are due by the Select Board meeting on December 5th. The Planning Board will vote to accept the plan on December 13th and the Select Board on December 19th, after which the plan will be forwarded to the State for its approval.

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