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Lynne Wallace: Charting and addressing Northampton’s housing needs

The Northampton Housing Partnership is a board of volunteers appointed by the mayor. Since 1991, it has been charged by city ordinance with identifying and addressing the Northampton’s housing needs, particularly for households with low and moderate incomes.

The Partnership assists with efforts to preserve existing affordable housing stock and supports initiatives to create new housing. As part of that responsibility, the Partnership completed a Housing Needs Assessment and Strategic Plan in 2011, to be used as a guide for the city as it deals with policy issues regarding housing.

These include decisions about resource allocation for the production of new affordable and workforce housing, how to revise the existing zoning code as it relates to building new housing and how to engage housing developers and other housing service providers in partnerships that will work to fill the identified needs.

The assessment revealed that, while Northampton’s population growth has been flat, the number of households is increasing.

At the same time, our population is aging and household incomes are relatively low (for our area). But housing prices — both rental and homeownership — have remained relatively high.

Many agree that Northampton is a vibrant community, a desirable place to live, to work and to raise our children. We have made important strides in addressing issues of housing affordability in the city. Nevertheless, we cannot rest on our laurels.

Because of the growing affordability gap and a misalignment of how the demographics are changing the types of housing needed, we must develop a range of strategies so that the city can play a meaningful role in promoting housing options that match people to appropriately priced and sized units — producing housing that reflects our local needs.

The project described by David Pesuit in his Jan. 23 guest column and supported by Joel Russell this space a week later fills gaps identified in the housing assessment: rental housing for individuals and small families as well as an in-town, walkable option for those looking to embrace the urban side of Northampton and a sustainable lifestyle.

Pesuit outlined the possibility of creating mixed-income housing with civic and commercial uses at an appropriate scale and architecturally compatible design behind Pulaski Park, in the Round House lot area.

Promoting housing production that is in line with the needs of those living or wanting to live in Northampton is an important goal identified by the assessment and the Housing Partnership.

The Housing Partnership’s plan for this year is to actively engage in and facilitate conversations that will promote the creation of affordable housing along a range of income levels.

This will include supporting local landlords in the preservation of affordable units, convening a developers’ forum in October to explore matches between developers and developable parcels or existing buildings and continuing to pursue and support the production of new housing as Pesuit suggested, as well as the Christopher Heights project at Village Hill, that meet the needs in our community – both for housing and its ripple effect to economic development.

The Housing Partnership meets the first Monday of the month and has board member openings for Northampton residents interested in working toward these goals.

To learn more, visit www.northamptonma.gov/housingpart.

We’re up to something!

Lynne Wallace of Florence is chairwoman of the Northampton Housing Partnership. In occasional guest columns over the rest of the year, the group plans to describe its mission and work.

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