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Report: Nearly 70 Percent of City’s Affordable Housing in High-Poverty Areas

Monday, October 22, 2012


A new housing market study found major inequalities in the distribution of affordable housing units throughout Worcester, and the City Manager said solving the housing problems may be the single biggest issue the City is facing.

The Analysis of Impediments to Affordable Housing study prepared by I2 Community Development Consulting, Inc. reported that the City of Worcester is home to 65.7 percent of all affordable housing units in the county, even though the city only accounts for 50 percent of the jobs in the region.

With 13.6 percent of the city's housing units designated as subsidized or affordable units, Worcester is one of six municipalities in Worcester County to meet the 10 percent minimum required under the state's Chapter 40B Affordable Housing Law, second only to Gardner with 14.12 percent.

Fitchburg at 10.44 percent, Berlin at 11.2 percent, Northborough at 12 percent and Westborough at 10 percent also meet the requirements.

Unequal Distribution of Units

Within Worcester, affordable housing units are distributed unequally across the city, with the vast majority located in neighborhoods with high poverty rates and large minority populations.

The city's Community Development Corporations (CDCs) have played an integral role in creating affordable housing and improving neighborhoods in Worcester. However, since the CDCs are geographically-based, the increases to the city's affordable housing stock are concentrated in in particular neighborhoods.

I2's report found that almost 70 percent of affordable units are located in high poverty areas, which account for just 39 percent of Worcester's total housing stock. More than 49 percent of affordable units are located in areas with high minority populations, which contain just 27 percent of the city's total housing stock.

Rather than use affordable housing development primarily as a means to rehabilitate neighborhoods in need of stabilization, the report recommends offering affordable housing opportunities in all areas of the city, particularly those with stable communities, in order to allow equal access to amenities and services.

Several individuals interviewed for the report stated that families are often forced to live in undesirable neighborhoods affected by crime or other quality-of-life issues because they were unable to find affordable housing elsewhere in the city.

"From a fair housing perspective, we note that creating market-rate units in low-income areas with a concentration of affordable housing could have positive effects, insofar as it is also accompanied by the construction or rehabilitation of affordable units in high-income areas," the report said.

"Taken together, these two actions might contribute to improved living conditions in currently distressed areas, greater socio-economic integration and a more widespread availability of affordable housing choices throughout the city."

The report found that these concentrations may limit the housing options available to low- and moderate-income populations due to a lack of low-cost market-based units.

Rising housing cost burdens have also played a role in the city's current with 39.6 percent of homeowners and 46.1 percent of renters burdened with housing costs in excess of 30 percent of their gross income.

Solutions for Worcester's Housing

The report recommended partnering other municipalities, housing advocates and community groups throughout the region to better distribute affordable housing units in Worcester County.

The increased the use of demand-driven systems, such as Section 8 housing vouchers, rather than a project-driven approach, in order to promote mixed-income housing and neighborhoods was also put forth as a way to diversify the city's housing landscape.

In a letter accompanying the reports, City Manager Michael O'Brien said it was clear that the city's distressed properties are eroding the quality of Worcester's neighborhoods, particularly in the East Side, Piedmont, Main South, Green Island and Oak Hill areas.

"These great neighborhoods have been in a delicate balance of stability for some time, and many have held their own, in large measure due to those who care and work hard to do so," he said.

"Our revitalization efforts must be undertaken in a much bolder, strategic way through unprecedented public-private partnerships -- in a block by block, street by street, house by house manner."

O'Brien called for increases in homeownership and owner-occupied homes, as well as in mixed-income neighborhoods and diversity, through revised funding priorities and policies.

The City's Executive Office of Economic Development laid out a three-part Housing Strategy for public and private investment in order to move Worcester's housing landscape forward.

"We will need all hands on deck to bring back stability and quality of life to these neighborhoods," O'Brien said.

"This may be the single biggest issue we face as a City and failure will not be an option."

The first part of the Housing Strategy, "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle," will focus first on eliminating blighted housing units, connecting individuals will existing quality units and renovating vacant or underutilized properties.

Under "Connect the Housing and Job Markets," officials will seek to tie public and private housing development efforts into the City's larger economic development plan, as well as connect existing employers and employees with housing opportunities in Worcester.

Finally "Stabilize Neighborhoods Now" will promote homeownership, job creation, infrastructure improvements and community concerns in targeted high-risk neighborhoods.


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