Public Forum To Address Essex Housing


This week Essex will host a public forum to address how to plan for housing challenges expected from a steady rise in resident population, pricing pressures and a lack of housing variety needed to suit different life stages and incomes.

The Wednesday, January 22 forum is part of an overall planning effort Essex began last year to develop a five- to 10-year comprehensive economic plan for proper growth.

Two weeks ago the town hosted another forum focused on economic development drivers, such as demographics, employers, the breakdown of “high value” employers vs. lower value ones, who works locally and how many residents commute outside Essex for employment, how they get there and how long it takes. Hosted by Town Planner Matt Coogan and the Economic Development Committee, the forum didn’t feel like “regular” municipal meeting fare.  Residents ate from the snack table and mingled among stations featuring signage with statistics with census data and interactive boards soliciting feedback on community assets. Then, the presentation offered an update on the grant-funded work being done to shape an economic plan for Essex by a team at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

This issue is related to the focus of this week’s forum, housing. Titled “Making Essex a Place to Call Home: Housing Needs and Choices in Essex,” the January 22 session will focus on housing needs in Essex and the Greater Boston region, housing options in Essex, strategies for meeting the housing needs of Essex residents, and upcoming projects and proposals. Speakers include Coogan and Chris Kluchman of Massachusetts Housing Choice Program and Peggy Hegarty-Steck of Action, Inc., and the moderator will be Dana LeWinter of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association. There will also be time for residents to share what kind of housing they would like to see in Essex. 

This mismatch between housing needs and the town's housing stock makes it difficult for aging households to downsize and remain in Essex. It also makes it difficult for those that work in Essex to live in town.

The bigger issue of economic development and planning is due in part to the dramatic increase in its resident population — 18 percent from 2000 to 2019, with an additional three percent expected over the next three years, according to the MAPC. Compare this to Manchester, with its relatively flat resident population (falling slightly from 5,636 in 2000 to 5,595 today) but a quickly aging resident profile — 43 percent of Manchester residents are over age 55, according to Town Clerk Christina St. Pierre.

Essex’s housing challenge starts with a lack of variety in the types of housing. In last week’s forum on economic development, Alex Koppelman, an MAPC housing and land use planner told residents that just over 75 percent of the town’s housing stocks are single-family homes and —based on locally reported data — no multi-family units have been permitted since 2006. The number of rental units in Essex hasn’t changed much over the last two decades, he said. In 2000, 28 percent of housing units were renter occupied and by 2018, it dropped to less than 26 percent. In fact, a survey of available online rental listings by MAPC showed only 11 listings for a rental unit from 2017 to 2018. 

This housing picture puts a strain on those wanting to move into the market, or want to downsize, said Koppelman. The median value of a single-family home in Essex is $578,000 and the median value of a condominium is $367,000. Those wanting to downsize or sell their single-family home after empty nesting or another life event have few options to do so. It’s the same for those wanting to enter the market after renting. According to MAPC report: “There are fewer renters in Essex than the Commonwealth because a lack of housing types other than single-family homes doesn’t provide many options to rent. This mismatch between housing needs and the town's housing stock makes it difficult for aging households to downsize and remain in Essex. It also makes it difficult for those that work in Essex to live in town.”

Essex and Manchester each share housing mix challenges, but for different reasons.  Essex’s challenge may be related to scale (population growth) but Manchester’s is more about effectively addressing a quickly aging resident profile.

Until now, Essex has not focused on either economic development or housing. Now it has, with hopes of completing a comprehensive five- to 10-year plan by June 2020, according to Essex Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki. 

The next Essex housing forum is scheduled for 7:00–8:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 22, at Essex Town Hall.


essex, massachusetts, brendhan zubricki, matt coogan, dana lewinter, economic development committee, town planner, metropolitan area planning council, alex koppelman, raul gonzalez, peggy hegarty-steck, chris kluchman, christina st. pierre, action inc.