Editor's Note: For nearly two years, the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust and the Manchester Housing Authority have been working in tandem on how to effectively ensure the long-term viability of Manchester’s public housing properties in the face of rising demand, and serious funding challenges from the state. They have written this first installment in a series on addressing these challenges.
There is a lot going on in Manchester-by-the-Sea these days. On the housing development front, there are proposals that have the attention of many town residents. The proposed housing project at Shingle Hill (the “40B”) continues on a path of negotiation between the Board of Selectmen and the developer. A preliminary plan to redevelop the Manchester Athletic Club area (the “40R”) is being discussed among various town boards. Plans to update the zoning regulations are also ongoing and have brought about much discussion among friends and neighbors.
Against this backdrop, the Manchester Housing Authority (MHA) and the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust (MAHT) have been working together on a plan to improve the existing 84 public housing units at Newport Park, The Plains and Loading Place Road, that have served the town well for over 50 years. As part of the plan, additional new units are being considered for the sites, to serve the town’s growing need for community affordable housing.
These MHA units are precious, as they make up most of the affordable housing in Manchester. Most of them are leased to seniors with fixed incomes. They are supposed to receive operating funds from the state, but little if any actual financial support is currently available. The cost of utilities, maintenance and management comes from the limited rents of the tenants, who pay 30 per cent of their income. The staff of the Housing Authority does an excellent job of keeping the properties going, but it is an uphill struggle. The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) provides occasional grants to replace roofs or windows, but the apartment units are outdated with inefficient utility systems and appliances. Half the units are second floor walk-up apartments with no elevators to serve the elderly residents. And this is not unique to Manchester. The Commonwealth’s inventory of state subsidized public housing is in need of upgrades to meet resident needs but financing plans are lacking to address the challenges.
Manchester cannot afford to wait for the state government to take action. The residents at these properties deserve to have safe, comfortable and sustainable housing. As highlighted in both the town’s Master Plan and the recently approved Housing Production Plan, the need for more community affordable housing in town is critical, and the MHA sites appear to be suitable.
Last fall the MHA and the MAHT jointly hired a consultant team to analyze the public housing properties as well as the town- owned DPW site on Pleasant Street.The purpose of the study is to assess the existing units and devise a plan to preserve and renovate them, as well as consider opportunities for additional units. In addition, the consultants were asked to determine the feasibility and present a viable development plan for the DPW facility on Pleasant Street site to support redevelopment of the MHA properties.
Each site has its own constraints and opportunities, and each requires its own specific development plan.
The Boards have established the following assumptions and guidelines in considering the plan vision and potential development recommendations:
- Any plan to take on the renovation of the Housing Authority sites will be complicated and time consuming, and must be undertaken in phases.
- The residents of the public housing units have been informed of the study and will continue to be engaged in the actual planning and design of the renovation.
- Town residents and neighbors will be asked to participate in the planning of these projects and their input and support will be critical to its success.
- The number of existing housing units will be maintained, though some may be replaced with new units. While it is early in planning, it’s important to note that renovation may include the need for some temporary relocation of tenants as part of the renovation process. However, no one will be left out or asked to leave.
- Although there is little funding for renovation of state-subsidized public housing, there are both state and federal funding sources specifically targeted for the creation of new affordable units. So, an important objective is to capitalize on these programs to develop new units of affordable and market rate housing that will provide funds to support the renovations needed for the public housing units.To put it simply, the Housing Authority is unable to obtain funds for renovating and improving the operations of the existing units without adding new units. The number of additional units will depend on land constraints, zoning and legal requirements, neighborhood input, and many unknown factors that will emerge as plans are finalized.
- Undertaking this project will require forming a partnership with an organization that has the expertise, resources and experience to oversee the project. The MHA will be an active partner and will retain its management responsibility for the public housing units.
- Once the MHA, DHCD and the Town have become comfortable with the goals of the plan, the MHA, with the support of the MAHT, will issue a formal Request for Proposals from potential development partners. After a careful selection process, an organization will be selected, a development agreement negotiated, and the details of the plan will be worked out with residents, neighbors, town boards and other stakeholders.
- This process will take time and will require both patience and persistence. It is unlikely that the Request for Proposals will be ready to be issued before this summer. Furthermore, it will take at least a year after a partner is chosen for the plan to be finalized and funding committed. Actual design documents and legal details will have to be developed. The Town will need time to issue appropriate permits. It is possible, even likely that the plan will have to be endorsed at the Town Meeting. The MHA and MAHT commit to working this through with all stakeholders in town.
The MHA and MAHT urge everyone to read the draft report and a summary. They can be accessed at the MAHT website: www.manchester.ma.us/523/Affordable-Housing-Trust
Members of both boards hope that it will result in a productive discussion and town-supported development plan. We will soon outline and publicize opportunities for public engagement at meetings sponsored jointly by MHA and MAHT. At this time, however, it is important to remember that the vision is meant to be broad at this stage and is an attempt to simplify what will be a complicated project. It will unfold in phases, with different funding sources and perhaps different development partners. As it moves forward, it will undoubtedly change and adapt to the realities of funding and legal constraints, environmental and site limitations, specific design concepts from architects and engineers, and input from public housing residents, neighbors, and town officials.
It is not an alternative to the 40B proposal. The idea of creating a development plan for the public housing units was initiated as the Master Plan emerged more than two years ago. What it offers is a way to integrate community affordable housing into the neighborhood fabric with minimal impact on the town’s fiscal condition. Its primary objective is to preserve and improve the public housing units that need attention and to support the important work of the MHA. This will be a long and careful process, and both the MHA and MAHT are looking forward to engaging with the town to make it happen.
Members of the Manchester Housing Authority, Gretchen Wood, chair and Members of the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust, John Feuerbach, chair