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February 13, 2014

Brown School plans debated

Residents concerned about property values

NEWBURYPORT — As municipal leaders make plans on how and when to change the function of the Brown School, local residents want them to learn one lesson: Don’t permit property values to fall.

Mayor Donna Holaday and several city officials held a public discussion last night with residents of the South End to discuss what to do with the Brown School when it closes this spring.

The mayor said that they are considering a plan to move the Department of Youth Services from the Kelley School to the Brown.

If youth services occupied the ground floor of the Brown, a contractor might be identified to develop the second and third floors.

Possible uses of those floors could be affordable housing, senior housing, and artists lofts and/or apartments.

Several residents said that they were concerned that affordable housing could have a chilling effect on the value of residential real estate, which has been rising steadily in recent months.

But city officials stressed that decision-makers are not even considering low-income housing.

Andrea Egmont, who heads the youth and recreation services department, said, “Affordable housing is not the same as low-income.”

She said that those in affordable housing pay close to the amount of market-driven apartment units.

Based on past projects, city officials say that those obtaining an “affordable” apartment would pay about 80 percent of market rate, and presumably tenants would have to be prosperous to afford a unit.

Officials did not state how many units might be created on the upper floors.

It is the goal of the city to provide more affordable units. If the percentage of affordable units reaches 10 percent of the housing stock, it can qualify for a range of state grants.

Yet a recurring area of concern from the audience, which numbered about 80, was that affordable housing might compromise real estate prices in the South End.

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