Worcester is growing, and so is housing construction.
As new homes are built, leaders in Massachusetts' second-largest city are working to address the rising cost of living with an inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require developers to set aside a certain percentage of units as affordable housing for lower-income residents.
"While we love the private development that is happening in Worcester — It's exciting, it's great to see growth downtown — but we have to balance that," said Yvette Dyson, executive director of Worcester Common Ground, a community development corporation.
The city's proposal would allow developers to choose to include 15% of units for people earning 80% or less of the area median income, or 10% of units to those earning 60% or less of the area median income. Dyson says this ordinance does not go far enough. She supports a hybrid proposal suggested by the Worcester Together Affordable Housing Coalition.
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"What we are saying to private developers if you have 100-unit building, we are asking for 10 units — five of them at 80%, five of them at 60%. Those are folks earning between $56,000 to $57,000 a year, hard-working. We have to make sure we provide housing for these people that live in our city."
"The biggest challenge is getting developers to agree to do it," said Rev. Clyde Talley, who is part of the housing coalition. "One main thing that we're looking to do is avoid redlining, where people are gradually getting pushed out of certain areas of the city because new housing units have been created, which is good, but they can't afford it. We don't want Worcester to get to the point where Worcester is now out-of-reach as a place to live for a lot of people."
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"It's a matter of trying to figure out, how do we use the private market as much as we can, how can we partner with them to make sure that we're spreading the wealth across the city,?" said Worcester City Councilor Etel Haxhiaj, who supports the coalition's proposal. "In my view, this seems to be kind of step one. It's the bare minimum that city council can do and elected leaders can do to secure a few affordable housing units for residents for generations to come."
Worcester's Economic Development Committee is holding a hearing on the inclusionary zoning ordinance Tuesday night. The ordinance will ultimately go to the city council for a vote.