BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The number of rental units here is getting smaller each year, leading city officials and planning experts last night to review a draft of a new housing production plan that focuses on creation of more affordable residences.
The session was hosted by the city’s Affordable Housing Trust and the municipal Office of Planning and Development.
Those attending acknowledged that the single-family market is getting stronger, but they expressed concern that affordable rental housing is becoming more difficult to find. Also, research indicates that the incidence of homelessness is growing.
Of the 8,015 housing units in the city, only about 7.8 percent are considered affordable rental units, a survey revealed. Municipal leaders are hoping to increase that figure to 10 percent with the development of more rental units.
If officials are able to boost the the number of rentals to 10 percent through the proposed housing production plan, the city could qualify for more state grants. In addition, a state-approved housing production plan could be used to mitigate demands of an unwanted “40B” development.
Planning authorities say a 40B proposal (high density, low-income) could contravene local planning regulations. But a state-approved housing plan to add more rental units could make it harder for a 40B program to succeed here, planning leaders said.
Mayor Donna Holaday spoke in support of the housing production plan.
“We want more rental units; we want seniors and in-laws and our children to be able to live here,” she said. “An increase in the number of affordable units will provide more diversity regarding the kind of residents we have here.”
She added, “This plan will go a long way in guiding the representatives, volunteers and private citizens of Newburyport in the creation of affordable, community housing.”
Holaday said her team is investigating sites for creating more rental units. City officials will investigate whether the Brown School, if closed, can host rental units, she said.
The mayor also indicated that excess municipal property at 115 Water St., which formerly housed buildings dedicated to water-treatment uses, can be considered for housing stock.
The next move in the municipal initiative is finalization of the draft of the housing production plan for dissemination to the Planning Board and then City Council for their review, possible revision and ultimate approval. When finalized, it will go to state officials, said city officials who are being aided in the process by a private consulting firm.