Polito pushes housing options bill in Easthampton

  • State Rep. Dan Carey, left, Janna Tetreault, Joanne Campbell and Mayor Nicole LaChapelle listen as Lt. Governor Karyn Polito talks about a bill promoting housing choices in Easthampton, March 28, 2019. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito talks about a bill promoting housing choices in Easthampton, March 28, 2019. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito talks about a bill promoting housing choices, in Easthampton, Thursday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/27/2019 4:40:41 PM

EASTHAMPTON – City and state officials gathered at Millside Park on Thursday to promote a bill recently filed by Gov. Charlie Baker aimed at increasing housing options throughout Massachusetts.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito made Easthampton the first stop of a promotional tour for An Act to Promote Housing Options, which sets a goal of producing 135,000 new housing units by 2025. Polito was joined by Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, and members of local housing organizations.

“Over the course of three decades, from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, we were building about 30,000 new units of housing a year,” Polito said. “Over the past two decades, we have been building about 8,000 to 10,000 units of housing a year. This clearly puts us behind other states that are growing their housing stock and are more affordable for people to live in.”

The bill would ease the municipal zoning approval process for the construction of multifamily developments and other housing projects in the state.

LaChapelle said the bill would make it easier for Easthampton residents to convert their existing property into a space they can rent out, which are known as accessory dwelling units. This could include building an additional structure on one’s property or converting a garage into a living space.

In Easthampton, property prices have increased 6 percent, and there are virtually no rental units available in the city, Polito said.

“We will be looking specifically for that bill to help us to develop accessory dwelling units, or in-law apartments,” LaChapelle said. “We will be allowed greater access to smart growth and starter home districts that are near our existing activity centers.”

Currently, in order for Easthampton residents to add an accessory dwelling to their property, they have to go through a lengthy special permit process through the Zoning Board of Appeals, which costs $100 and could take months of public hearings, according to City Planner Jeff Bagg. Baker’s bill would simply require a building permit to acquire an accessory dwelling, making it easier for private housing development in the city.

Polito called LaChapelle a “leader” in the state for her ability to leverage funding from state programs to improve infrastructure for 1 Ferry St. to attract a $45 million investment from developer Michael Michon. The 1 Ferry St. project will create 152 housing units in addition to office spaces, a fitness club, and massage and yoga space.

The city received a $3.8 million grant from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program in November that will be used for improvements to utility connections and for a new roundabout at the intersection of Pleasant, Lovefield and Ferry streets.

LaChapelle also touted a $225,000 state grant through the governor’s Housing Choice Initiative that will be used to expand the Valley Bike Share program in Easthampton. The grant will bring nearly 36 new electric assist bikes with locations at the Municipal Building, the bike path at Union Street, the Old Town Hall, and Mill Side Park.

The Baker administration filed a similar bill that died in the Statehouse in the previous legislative session, but the governor is pushing once again with a new bill and a campaign to promote its intended benefits.

Polito’s tour of promotional events for Baker’s bill will include visits to Salem, Barnstable, and Williamstown in April.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com

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