Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy (Item file photo)
By Thomas Grillo
LYNN — City officials say Lynn has a sufficient amount of affordable housing and what the city needs is an infusion of market-rate homes and new residents with deep pockets to occupy them.
In its most recent report, the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) said of the nearly 35,701 housing units in the city, 12.5 percent meet the affordability criteria. That count includes deed-restricted units that remain affordable in perpetuity.
Only 14 Bay State cities and towns have a larger percentage of low-income housing: Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard, Bedford, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Gardner, Greenfield, Hadley, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, North Adams, Springfield and Worcester, according to the DHCD.
James Cowdell, executive director of the Lynn Economic Development & Industrial Corp. (EDIC/Lynn), said the numbers reported by the state fail to include about 4,000 Section 8 vouchers, the federal program that assists low-income families, elders and the disabled afford housing in the private market, and perhaps as many as another 1,000 federal vouchers that are not tracked and the number of people living in shelters — bringing the total to more than 25 percent.
Cowdell objected to a protest that was held earlier this month before a developer’s tour of the city when two dozen members of Lynn United for Change, a community organization that supports affordable housing, used a bullhorn to advocate for more low- and moderate-income units. They held signs that said “Lynn Says No To Gentrification” and “Lynn Families Before Developer’s Profits.”
“To tell a developer ‘If you don’t do what we say, we will shut you down,’ there’s no place for that,” he said. “Take your bullhorn and go to Lynnfield, go to Swampscott, go to Marblehead; how can you make that argument in Lynn?”
It’s not an accident that upscale eateries like the Blue Ox and Rossetti Restaurant have located downtown, Cowdell said.
“I was the author of the rezoning in 2003 to bring market-rate housing to the city and look at the impact on the downtown,” he said. “Those restaurants came because we’ve put people in the area with disposable income. We are trying to raise the bar.”
But Karen Wiener, interim executive director at the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, a statewide affordable- housing advocacy group, said while Lynn should be praised for meeting the state’s 10 percent threshold, that figure is the minimum of affordable units communities must have to avoid Chapter 40B projects. The controversial measure allows developers to bypass local zoning on density if the percentage of affordable units is below 10 percent.
“Twelve percent is a great start and congratulations to Lynn for meeting and exceeding the minimum, but what about three or five years from now as gentrification sets in?” Wiener asked. “Lynn has a lot, but I’m not certain there isn’t a need for more deed-restricted affordable in perpetuity.”
Thomas Callahan, executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, said he’s not sure what percentage of affordable housing is right for each community.
“It’s a moving target,” he said. “It depends on how many people are paying more than 30, 40 or 50 percent of their income for rent.”
In its most recent report, Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) said 66 percent of all Lynn households meet the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s definition of low- or moderate-income.
In addition, 5,285 people are on LHAND’s waiting list for apartments.
“In Lynn, a substantial number of residents are paying a huge percent of their pay on rent and that’s evidence that more affordable housing is needed,” Callahan said.
Still, Cowdell suggested protestors should compare Lynn’s affordable housing numbers to surrounding communities.
“For anyone to say that Lynn is not doing its fair share, there’s no proof of that,” he said.
Less than 4 percent of the units in Marblehead, Nahant and Swampscott are considered affordable, according to the state.
Cowdell said he is opposed to any so-called inclusionary zoning law, which requires that 10 to 20 percent of units in a development be set aside as affordable. Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Quincy have such measures.
“Once the city sets its vision, specifies zoning and how sites should be developed, I don’t think we should then tell developers ‘Now that you’re going to build it, make 20 percent of the units affordable,’” Cowdell added.
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said the city has more than enough affordable housing. She also disputed the state’s number and said by her count about a third of the city’s housing stock is considered affordable.
“Lynn has more than its share of affordable housing right now,” she said. “We have exceeded the goal and one of the things that Lynn needs to succeed in is its long-term economic development is to have people with disposable income in the mix of the housing that we offer.”
Thomas Grillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.