Draft law on affordable housing offers incentives

Draft law on affordable housing offers incentives

PAWTUCKET – Preliminary drafts of the city’s new affordable housing ordinance do not include a mandate for a minimum of 10 percent affordable units within the Conant Thread district surrounding a coming new train station, says Councilor Terry Mercer.

Mercer told The Breeze significant progress has been made on what has been a controversial issue and he expects an ordinance to be ready to send to the full council by its first meeting in August. There are a number of kinks to still work out during one more planned workshop, he said.

The latest proposal addresses Councilor Meghan Kallman’s particular concerns about the “secondary creep” of gentrification, or forcing out of residents due to higher rents, in neighborhoods abutting the train station district, said Mercer.

The councilman said there will be a quarter-mile overlay district running outside the Conant Thread district, creating incentives to add affordable units.

City Planner Sue Mara said that district is proposed as the “Neighborhood Stabilization District,” which would accomplish two things:

• Create an overlay zone where projects that include affordable housing would receive density increases as well as some dimensional flexibility.

• And allow in-law apartments by right for single-family and two-family homes.

Under the proposal, in-law apartments as accessory dwelling units are not currently allowed in the city, but those would be incorporated into the overlay district as a compromise, said Mercer. Family members who are disabled or who are age 62 or older would be able to live in those units, potentially preventing them from being displaced from a home they’ve lived in for a long time. An amendment would also allow family members up to age 26 to live in such units, allowing those just out of college or just joining the military to stay at home with their parents to help them out and not force them to pay market rate for a place they can’t afford, said Mercer.

Mara said planning staff has provided the council with some alternatives intended to stabilize the neighborhoods around the proposed train station, a facility providing needed public investment to support the redevelopment of the mill complexes within what’s known as the new Transit Oriented Development District and downtown.

“There had been concern about this investment potentially displacing existing residents in the surrounding neighborhoods,” she said.

The zone being crafted by Mara and others would also provide the boundary lines where the council prioritizes projects that include affordable housing when they are disposing of public land or where properties go through the receivership process.

“These are recommendations at this time, and there needs to be additional work to refine the neighborhood stabilization boundaries and also to determine the zoning incentives,” she said.