SWAMPSCOTT — A mile from his own home, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced nearly $120 million in subsidies and tax credits to spur more affordable housing in the state.
The $80 million in subsidies and $38 million in tax credits will bolster 28 affordable housing and mixed-use projects in Beverly, Gloucester, Lawrence, Peabody, Swampscott, Methuen and elsewhere.
The state funding will advance the preservation or help spur new construction of nearly 1,600 rental apartments, roughly 1,350 of which are affordable.
The governor and state housing officials said the burgeoning economy and growing population coupled with a lack of housing production has led to Massachusetts becoming one of the most expensive places to live in the country.
"We have so many creative, imaginative, talented and smart people, and we have a booming economy, but we have got to solve this housing problem," Baker said. "I consider it to be among the most pressing challenges we face."
The crisis is not new. Baker recalled former Gov. Mitt Romney talking about the lack of housing for seniors, low-income folks and young families during a campaign stop in Swampscott in 2002.
"And that was 17 years ago," Baker said.
State Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Janelle Chan said the housing crisis threatens the stability of working families and the state's economy. The state has the third highest home values in the nation, behind California and Hawaii, but the lowest rate of housing production.
The event at Jackson Park drew dozens of town and state officials, stakeholders, developers representing various projects from across the state, and state lawmakers including state Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, the chairperson on the Joint Committee on Housing; and state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, who grew up in Swampscott.
The nearly $80 million in subsidies comes from seven state bond accounts and federal HOME funds, according to a press release. The $38 million in tax credits comes from state and federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
The tax credits are expected to generate more than $260 million in equity to support the projects. But because the projects will use the subsidies and tax credits to leverage other funding, state and project officials couldn't exactly say how much money each project will receive.
From school to senior housing
Among the projects Baker touted is one in his hometown: the redevelopment of the former Machon School into senior housing.
The vacant Machon, which closed in 2007, will become 38 new affordable senior apartments known as the Senior Residences at The Machon. The developer is the nonprofit B'nai B'rith Housing New England Inc.
Of those 38 units, eight will be reserved for extremely low-income seniors.
"This project in particular is a terrific example of the creativity and imagination and diligence, because these things require diligence, of the town of Swampscott, of one of our nonprofit partners in B'nai B'rith and so many others to make this affordable housing project for seniors happen here in the commonwealth," Baker said.
The project has been in the works for some time. In May 2016, Town Meeting approved selectmen entering into negotiations for the redevelopment of the school on Burpee Road. The project involves preserving the original 1920s Machon building, demolishing a 1963 addition, and building a new 2 1/2-story addition.
Peter Spellios, chairman of the Swampscott Board of Selectmen, said affordable housing is needed in town despite the fact that its median household income is well above the state average.
Over the past decade, the number of students in town schools on free and reduced lunch has risen by 70 percent. The number of seniors in town is outpacing other communities, Spellios said, and many seniors are struggling to make ends meet.
In an effort to meet the need, the town created an affordable housing trust fund and adopted an inclusionary housing bylaw, along with supporting the Machon's conversion.
"Embarrassingly, these units are the first units since the last units we constructed as part of the Swampscott Housing Authority over 30 years ago," Spellios said.
Susan Gittelman, executive director of B'nai B'rith Housing, credited the town and its officials for making the project possible and thanked the neighborhood for its patience.
"Soon the building you see up the hill will be transformed into wonderful new homes for seniors and older adults," she said. "A welcoming community with lots of activity, relationships and a focus on really well being."
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.
Projects on the North Shore, Cape Ann and in the Merrimack Vally that received 2019 Affordable Rental Housing Awards Thursday:
-- The $22 million transformation of the YMCA in downtown Beverly on Cabot Street by the YMCA of the North Shore from 45 single rooms with shared kitchens to 69 studio-like apartments with individual kitchenettes and bathrooms. It's a joint development project that includes Harborlight Community Partners, the city, and Northeast Arc, and other partners.
-- The purchase and rehabilitation of the Tannery I complex in downtown Peabody by Winn Development. Winn was the state's designee to buy the affordable complex under provisions of a state law meant to preserve affordable housing. The purchase will preserve 284 units as affordable for the city's housing stock. MassHousing is supporting the project and the city is providing local funding.
-- The mixed use and affordable Harbor Village in downtown Gloucester by the nonprofit North Shore Community Development Coalition of Salem. The project will create 30 new affordable units. Gloucester is also supporting the project with Community Preservation Act funding in addition to the state subsidies and Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
-- The PAC 10 Lofts Phase II in Lawrence involving the re-use of an historic mill by Reed Community Partners, LLC. It's a 500,000 square foot project that will offer 96 new rental units. The city is also supporting the project in addition to state funding.
-- The Broadway Building in Methuen, which is new construction downtown with 40 new affordable housing for families by DS Development LLC. Methuen plans to support the project with local HOME funds.