Council Subcommittee Exploring Ways to Expand Affordable Housing in Watertown

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The Town Council’s Human Services Committee will hold a series of meetings looking at ways to increase the amount of affordable housing in Watertown. 

The town has not met the state’s goal of 10 percent of the housing units in town being available to rent or buy at an affordable rate. The committee will invite in experts in the area of affordable housing to help them get an idea of where Watertown stands, strategies used by other communities, and what would work in town.

The committee will hold meetings at 7:15 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month each month in Town Hall, besides July, thorough the end of the year, said Councilor Tony Palomba, chair of the Human Services Committee.

During the first meeting in May the committee heard from Chair of the Watertown Housing Partnership Fred Reynolds about the current state of affordable housing. He said at the last count Watertown was at about 6.9 percent affordable housing.

Efforts have been made to increase the number of affordable units, such as upping the requirement for the amount of affordable units in new developments, in 2016, from 10 percent to 12.5 percent for developments of 6-19 units, and 15 percent for 20 or more units.

Councilor Ken Woodland said the town will still struggle to get to the 10 percent even with the new requirements. The real way to make a big dent in the shortfall would be to build more affordable housing. Woodland noted that, historically, major increases in new units for the Watertown Housing Authority occurred when the town received assistance from the state, and urged the Town to look for possible funding through the Massachusetts Bond Bill.

Other issues were discussed, including the impact of Airbnb and other short-term rentals, as well as units that have been left empty.

The next meeting is June 7 at 7:15 p.m. in the Council Chamber in Town Hall. The guests will be Watertown Senior Planner Andrea Adam, Watertown Housing Authority Director Brian Costello and Watertown Social Services Resource Specialist Danielle DeMoss.

Future meetings will including input from other Town officials, representatives from statewide organizations, and other towns.

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