Where you grow up matters

I was a poor kid who grew up in a wealthy suburb of New Jersey, so when I heard this piece on NPR this morning it struck a personal note.  The Harvard economist’s findings reinforce the importance of creating affordable housing for families in our suburban, low-poverty communities.

Communities that have adopted the MA Community Preservation Act have a greater opportunity to create affordable homes for low-income families through local initiatives and housing assistance programs.  As I focus today on writing the first chapter of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s new “CPA & Affordable Housing” guidebook, the findings of these studies will be on my mind.

In two new studies, Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues found that where poor kids grow up has a huge effect on how much money they earn as adults.

In one study, families living in public housing were randomly selected to be eligible for housing vouchers that required them to move to low poverty neighborhoods. Kids whose families received the vouchers grew up to earn significantly more than those whose families remained in public housing.

In a second study, Chetty and his colleagues looked at data for millions of families who moved from one county to another. Based on this data, they were able to estimate how much where poor kids grow up affects their income as adults.

NPR’s Jacob Goldstein posts “Where poor kids grow up makes a huge difference.”

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Manchester-by-the-Sea: community members develop priorities for using Community Preservation funds

The Manchester community considered two CPA budgeting scenarios:  1) maintain the current 3% CPA surcharge and 2) decrease surcharge to 1.5%.  Using JM Goldson’s “CPA Tetris” prioritization exercise, community members discussed and debated priorities in each of the four CPA spending categories: historic preservation, community housing, open space, and recreation.  Know what ranked high?  Community Housing!

Before we began the exercise, we learned a few interesting things about the audience through JM Goldson’s digital group polling method:

1) 67% of the workshop participants voted to adopt CPA in Manchester in 2005

2) 54% wanted to keep the CPA surcharge at the current 3% maximum

3) 72% did not have a high enough income to afford to buy a home priced a Manchester’s 2014 median sales price of $750,000!!

Community members working on JM Goldson's CPA Tetris exercise at the Manchester by the Sea workshop, April 13, 205

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Share your ideas for the McElwain School Reuse Project

McElwain School, c. 1913

The Bridgewater Community Development Advisory Committee is seeking ideas about how to best reuse the old McElwain School.

Have an idea?  Click here to share your ideas and provide feedback on the project’s community brainstorming site!

More info including photos and the school’s history.

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Easton Affordable Housing Trust Action Plan

The Easton Affordable Housing Trust adopted an updated Action Plan in December 2014. The new Plan describes the Trust’s goals, strategies, and multi-year budget to help the Trust address Easton’s primary housing needs including more affordable rental units, family housing, and options for older adults.

To help create the updated plan, the Trust solicited feedback from other town officials and interested members of the public at a community workshop, facilitated by JM Goldson. Based on this feedback and the Trust’s own assessment of priorities, the Trust identified ongoing initiatives to continue and new initiatives to launch, such as working with the Housing Authority to expand its stock of affordable housing for families.

Easton Action Plan FY16-20

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West Bridgewater Adopts Community Preservation Plan

Last night, the West Bridgewater Community Preservation Committee (CPC) adopted a Community Preservation Plan to guide Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding allocations for FY16-20.  West Bridgewater, located in Southeastern MA, has less than 7,000 population and generates close to $200,000 annually in total CPA revenue.

Working with JM Goldson, the CPC developed a plan that identifies active recreation and historic preservation as priority CPA areas for funding over the next 5 years.

West Bridgewater Community Preservation Plan FY16-20

West Bridgewater Community Workshop

W. Bridgewater Community Workshop June 2014

JM Goldson

Jennifer Goldson, owner of JM Goldson, facilitating W. Bridgewater Community Workshop

W. Bridgewater Community Workshop June 2014

W. Bridgewater residents participating in CPA Tetris exercise to develop priorities for the CPA Plan

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Eastham's new Community Preservation Plan establishes allocation goals beyond minimums

This winter and spring, I had the pleasure of working with the Eastham Community Preservation Committee to develop a 5-year Community Preservation Plan that establishes clear priorities among and within each CPA funding category, allocation targets beyond the minimum 10% requirements, and project possibilities.   Eastham is a beautiful outer Cape community with stunning scenic views, significant coastal and natural resources, diverse historic resources, high interest in recreation, and an active local housing trust.

The Community Preservation Plan is highly customized to help guide the CPC’s deliberations and give clear guidance to potential applicants.  In addition to establishing guiding principles, allocation targets, and category goals, the plan details the Town’s past CPA allocations, debt commitments, and revenue projections.

Utilizing the interactive “CPA Tetris” group discussion method, developed by JM Goldson, to help the public visualize Eastham’s projected 5-year CPA budget, workshop participants prioritized dozens of project ideas covering the four CPA funding categories.  We also employed digital group polling to provide participants with an interactive education about Eastham’s CPA program and eligibility.  Based on the priorities established through this process, we also revamped the CPC’s application materials to reflect funding priorities.

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Strong Interest in Walkable Mixed-Use Communities

Does your community provide the living options that people want? Do your development regulations even allow the type of community that people (consumers) want? Will your community continue to be a desirable place to live as consumer preferences change? This article by Joseph Molinaro, AICP, on the PlannersWeb describes a recent National Realtor’s survey that indicates a very strong demand for homes in walkable neighborhoods. Check it out.National Realtors Survey Indicates Strong Interest in Walkable Mixed-Use Neighborhoods

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A role for Children in Planning

A post by Bill Lennertz, executive director of the National Charrette Institute, “Children: Savvy Community Planners,” is one among many posts on the American Planning Association’s (APA) Kids Planning Toolbox. Lennertz emphasis the value that children can bring when included in charrettes with their knowledge of special neighborhood places and a different perspective than adults – often a more open-minded perspective.  Lennertz advises that involving classes with the support of teachers can prove effective, especially at the middle school age.  Lennertz writes about a charrette in Michigan where members of the team visited middle school classes to involve the children in mini-charrettes.

The blog includes many other ideas for involving children in planning activities and ways to bring community and schools together.  Years ago I was involved in Citizen Schools as a volunteer teacher with a colleague.  We taught a group of Boston Public School 4th graders about community planning, helping them see their community in a different way and helping us see our profession in a different way.

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The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2013 Released

The Boston Foundation recently released the 2013 Greater Boston Housing Report Card (Housing Report Card), which provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of housing and its relationship with the economy in the Greater Boston region.  The analysis included communities in five counties:  Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk.

The Housing Report Card should be required reading for all town officials, board/committee members, and community activists who deal with any aspect of community development in the Greater Boston region.

Ultimately, housing is related to all of the other challenges we face – from education to job training to community development as a whole.  As we move forward in shaping approaches and policies in all of these areas, our thinking is wonderfully informed by the treasure trove of information and analysis in these pages.  (Housing Report Card, p.4)

Some key points:

Household Income & Cost of Living

  • Since 2005, the overall cost of living in the region increased twice as fast as median household income for homeowners and three times as fast as median household income for renters.
  • Although Massachusetts’ recovery from the Great Recession was stronger than the nation’s, the Massachusetts’ economy seems to have suddenly stalled.  This is likely to result in continued stagnation or perhaps even decline in household incomes.
  • Single-family home prices are growing as are condominium prices. In fact, a six-year trend of falling condominium sales turned a corner in 2012 when sales jumped 25% from 2011.  Rent prices continue to increase as they have every year since 2003.

Housing affordability is as serious a problem as ever, not just because of rising home prices and rents, but because of stagnant or declining household income.  Renters have been the hardest hit. (Housing Report Card, p.10)

Zoning Key to Meeting New Housing Demand

  • The strength of the region’s economy is directly linked with housing supply.  The greatest demand for new housing is expected to be from aging Baby Boomers wanting to downsize and young Millennials who prefer multi-family housing.  This fact led to the Governor’s goal to produce 10,000 multi-family units statewide per year through 2020.
  • There has already been a significant shift from construction of single-family homes to multi-family units to meet this demand, but it isn’t yet enough.  The main obstacle is local zoning.

The high cost of housing in Massachusetts is, of course, directly related to a lack of supply.  The authors of this report delve into the reasons why our state ranks 47th out of 50 in the number of new housing permits per capita and discover that it is largely because of the way our cities and towns actively zone out the all-important multi-family developments that can help solve so many of our affordable housing challenges.  (Housing Report Card, p.4)

I encourage you to read the full Housing Report.  You may also find it interesting to watch principal author Barry Bluestone’s presentation on October 10, 2013.

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Norwood Housing Production Plan Adopted

Last week, the Norwood Board of Selectmen and Planning Board unanimously adopted the Town’s first Housing Production Plan.  The Town, just south of Boston, is under extensive development pressure with 800-900 housing units in the pipeline.  The Town positioned themselves to have greater control over development by creating the Housing Production Plan (and just in the nick of time!).

JM Goldson was engaged as lead on the project last spring and assembled a team including Oxbow Partners, Larry Koff and Associates, and Bluestone Planning Group. On the heals of town approval of the Plan, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a 260+ unit comprehensive permit.  The Town hopes this permit will lead to a two-year certification of the Housing Production Plan, which would enable denials of comprehensive permits to be upheld.

Through stakeholder interviews and an interactive community workshop, it was apparent that an important component of the plan would be to promote smart growth development near the Town’s commercial centers to further downtown economic revitalization as well as economic development and open space conservation goals.  Emphasizing the interconnections between affordable housing, community preservation, and economic development goals are threaded throughout the Plan.

Town officials embrace the Housing Production Plan, which was submitted last week for state approval, and are serious about implementing the various local housing initiatives the plan recommends.  In fact, the Town is already working on adopting a new MGL c.40R Smart Growth Overlay District in Norwood Center which may be presented to Town Meeting as early as this fall and could produce close 250-300 housing units through redevelopment of an underutilized industrial complex.

Click here to download the Norwood Housing Production Plan.

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