Committee approves new overlay protecting affordable housing

Committee approves new overlay protecting affordable housing

A map shows the new Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay District, running from the Central Falls line southward through Pawtucket. In this district, those who develop new affordable housing units will be entitled to special allowances.
Public hearing planned for late September

PAWTUCKET – A map of a first-of-its-kind Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay District has gotten the greenlight from a council subcommittee as part of an effort to protect affordable housing in city neighborhoods surrounding a coming new commuter rail station near the Central Falls line.

“I’m super excited about it,” said Pawtucket City Councilor Meghan Kallman, saying she’s particularly happy that this ordinance she had input on stretches into Woodlawn, which is not part of the Transit-Oriented Development district directly around the train station, but will be impacted by it.

Affordable housing in Woodlawn and other areas remains an issue for residents, said Kallman, and this new series of zoning changes and incentives is an important tool in creating more affordable units – not Section 8 housing, she emphasized, but working-class housing. Making sure residents aren’t displaced by new development remains a significant challenge here and across the U.S., she said.

Councilor Terry Mercer, head of the ordinance committee and ad hoc committee on economic development and neighborhood improvement, which considered and approved the map at its meeting last Wednesday, Aug. 21, said he expects to have a public hearing on a new affordable housing ordinance and the overlay map on Sept. 25, but that’s a tentative date.

The map, approved by the only two members present, Mercer and Councilor Mark Wildenhain, codified what council members accomplished during earlier workshops and dovetailed with the pending ordinance approved at the subcommittee level three weeks ago, said Mercer. The map needed a couple of tweaks in the West Avenue area, so it wasn’t fully ready until last week’s meeting.

Senior Planner Jay Rosa said Monday that he’d have a finalized list of details included in the overlay district within a couple of days.

He said this ordinance and accompanying map, running south from the Central Falls line past Mineral Spring Avenue and all the way to Sayles Avenue, won’t impact existing property owners unless they want it to. This is all voluntary, he said, and no one is required to be part of it. Everything currently allowed with zoning would continue to be allowed, and not everyone will be entitled to the rights afforded in the plan.

Most of the modifications allowed within the overlay district would be dimensional in nature, meaning anyone creating deed-restricted affordable housing units would be entitled to such allowances as increased maximum heights, relief on lot coverage, and waiving of parking restrictions requiring more than one space per unit, said Rosa.

In-law apartments would be allowed by right for single-family and two-family homes. In-law apartments as accessory dwelling units aren’t currently allowed in the city, but they would be incorporated under the tentatively approved changes. Rosa said not only would family members who are disabled or at least 62 years of age be allowed to live in those units, but those up to age 26 would also be allowed to live in them, going beyond state law to allow younger adults to potentially reduce their own housing costs as tenants as well as the costs of the homeowner.

This ordinance, a response to train station development potentially forcing residents out due to higher housing costs, was originally structured for mill buildings, said Rosa, but now includes smaller residential projects for “wider stabilization and limiting potential displacements.”

The two key words here are flexibility and voluntary. The ordinance and numerous properties included on a map will be eligible if they create new affordable units that are deed-restricted for at least a decade. The owner of a home who wants to add an affordable dwelling unit could be eligible, he said. “It should fit some folks’ needs.”

Kallman said the accessory dwelling provision is especially meaningful to her because it targets two groups, young people and older people, who are traditionally most vulnerable to be displaced.

She said she also likes that the parking relief incentivizes use of public transit for a densely populated city, and also appreciates that the ordinance encourages use of disposed city properties for affordable units.