What’s a young professional to do? Study shows Shelburne needs more housing

  • The village of Shelburne Falls is seen from above.

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

SHELBURNE — Will longtime residents be able to find suitable, affordable housing that lets them stay in town as they age? Will children who grew up in Shelburne be able to come back, to raise families of their own? Will town road crews, firefighters and EMTs be able to afford to live in the town where they work?

A recent housing survey found that 54 percent of Shelburne households fall within federal income limits for affordable housing. Yet, less than 6 percent of the town’s housing stock meets federal standards of affordability.

Housing is deemed affordable if the household spends no more than 30 percent of its gross income on housing costs. Also, the federal government used the term “affordable housing” to mean it is affordable to households making less than 80 percent of the “Area Median Income,” as defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

What do we need?

Land use planner Alyssa Larose of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments recently presented the results of the 2017 housing survey, along with strategies for developing more apartments and first-time-buyers’ homes for young families.

Both the Selectboard and Planning Board have voted to endorse a plan that will be submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the aim being to show the town is making a good-faith effort to meet a state recommendation to have at least 10 percent of year-round housing be affordable.

Without a state-approved municipal housing plan, housing developers could be allowed to bypass some zoning regulations if a proposed development has at least 20 percent affordable housing dwellings.

The survey received 96 responses, which served as the basis for identifying housing needs. Here are the major findings:

Senior Housing — Shelburne has 46 affordable senior housing apartments in Highland Village, Shelburne Falls, but there is a current waiting list of 34 households, six of which already live in Shelburne. By 2035, about 39 percent of the town’s residents are expected to be over age 65, compared to 20 percent in 2010. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents identified affordable senior housing as a need in town.

Houses for first-time buyers — Starter homes for first-time buyers was identified as a need by 67 percent of respondents. The market for home sales is tight; the vacancy rate is low and the median single family home sale price of $296,000 is unaffordable to households earning a median income of $54,747. Also, there are not many homeowners under the age of 35, which suggests that prices are too high for most young people looking to buy a home.

Rental housing — There is a low availability of apartment rentals and property owners using rooms and apartments for short-term vacation rentals may be contributing to the tight rental market. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents identified affordable apartments as a need. Rental housing is needed to serve families, young professionals and those who cannot afford or do not wish to own a home.

Also, 48 percent of the respondents indicated there is a need for affordable family housing, new family housing, or addressing lead paint in existing homes and apartments.

To reach its goal of having 10 percent affordable housing, Shelburne needs about 38 affordable housing dwellings to be created in town.

Strategies proposed by the Shelburne Housing Committee include:

Decreasing the minimum lot size and frontage requirements in the Village Commercial and Village Residential district, where there is public water and sewer.

Amending the definition of multifamily dwelling to increase the number by special permit from four dwellings to eight in the Village Commercial, Village Residential and Commercial districts.

Study the possibility of locating a new senior center with senior housing on town-owned land in Shelburne Falls.

Creating a committee to work toward implementing housing goals. Also, consider adopting a Community Preservation Act to generate money for the development of affordable housing.

Establish a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust.

For existing housing, the strategies include promoting rehabilitation programs to residents and helping residents who want to modify their homes through home-sharing, adding an accessory apartment or converting from single-family to two-family.

The town may look for money to establish a First-Time Homebuyers program, or consider forming a joint housing committee with Buckland to work toward meeting the needs of both communities.