Members of the board of the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund have spent their first couple of meetings diving into data and hammering out a mission statement and goals for Revere. Chair Joseph Gravellese and fellow board members Laia Petri, Jan Dumas and Anayo Osueke met earlier this month with the city’s Chief of Planning & Community Development, Tom Skwierawski, who presented a slew of statistics that mapped out Revere’s dire need for more affordable housing.
Skwierawski presented a number of gob-smacking facts, including that more than 12,000 Revere residents are low-income, of which 44 percent are extremely low-income and would qualify for housing assistance. However, there is only one affordable unit available for every seven people or households in need. Revere has the lowest median household income in the area, but also the highest rents. And since 2015 rents have jumped dramatically. The average monthly cost of a one-bedroom has increased by 83 percent or has gone from $1,136 to $2,189, while rent for a two-bedroom has risen from $1,494 to $2,635.
Skwierawski also touched on the need to comply with the state’s 40B regulation that requires cities and towns to maintain 10 percent of housing stock as affordable. If a community fails to meet that 10 percent threshold, developers can apply to the state for 40B building permits which may allow them to bypass local zoning rules. Revere currently has 21,956 units of housing of which 2,196, or just 10 percent, are affordable. However, there are thousands of units in the pipeline, and once they are complete, the city’s percentage of affordable housing will dip below 10 percent, leaving Revere vulnerable to developers looking for relief from city zoning regulations in exchange for affordable units.
The Department of Planning & Community Development has also looked at different ideas and opportunities to develop more affordable housing. Skwierawski spoke about first time home buyers’ loan programs, rental assistance, a housing stability office and home improvement loans.
The department has also looked at opportunities to build new affordable housing. According to Skwierawski, the Revere Housing Authority has a significant amount of underutilized space that could be developed. He also mentioned partnering with the MBTA, which has large surface parking lots at the Beachmont and Wonderland Stations. The MBTA has been a vocal proponent of transit-orientated housing, and Skwierawski suggested now may be the time for the state to put some money where its mouth is.
The Affordable Housing Trust Fund board has also been looking at how other communities manage their trust funds. They discussed the possibility of surveys and focus groups to understand better what strategies to create affordable housing might be the best fit for Revere. They also briefly discussed the various ways other cities and towns have raised money for their trust funds.
The board is scheduled to meet again on Jan. 11 in the City Council Chambers. There are two open seats on the board for residents who are interested in serving and who feel they can bring value and experience to the board.