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AGAWAM — The town’s draft Housing Production Plan proposes more condos and mixed-use buildings to increase the number of low-cost dwellings.

Community members gave their thoughts on housing needs at a Nov. 15 public forum. The City Council is expected to discuss the plan at its second December meeting.

The forum started with a presentation by Lorie Tanner, senior planner at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. She said a town needs a housing production plan to stop unwanted “Chapter 40B” developments from being built. These are affordable housing projects that can override the town’s zoning and environmental laws. Any town will less than 10% of its housing stock enrolled as “affordable housing” is vulnerable to a 40B project.

“This is a major motivation in many cases for communities to do these plans,” Tanner said.

Housing is considered affordable when low-income households — households earning 80% or less of the region’s median income — can afford it. For Greater Springfield, including Agawam, the thresholds include $79,700 in total income for a four-person household, and $55,800 for a single person.

The housing also has to be safe, suitable for the amount of people living in it, and subsidized long-term. If it meets these criteria, it can be listed on the Massachusetts Subsidized Housing Inventory.

Housing production plans focus on those who are “housing cost-burdened,” meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on housing. In Agawam, 20% of homeowners and 54% of renters are housing cost-burdened.

Agawam is projected to slowly grow in population. It has a range of household incomes. According to charts in the presentation, 29.7% make $49,999 or lower, 30.1% make between $50,000 and $99,999, and 40.2% make $100,000 or higher. Its population is also aging; the number of residents over 65 increased from 16.9% in 2010 to 20.8% in 2020.

“That’s another need, where you have seniors in town who want to stay in town and they have some difficulties,” Tanner said.

Adding to the difficulty, housing costs have increased dramatically since 2020. Charts in the presentation show the median home sale price in Agawam for all units rose from $235,000 in 2020 to $289,000 most recently, spiking as high as $375,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Agawam’s Housing Production Plan has several goals. The first is to increase the number of affordable housing units by 0.5% per year, which would provide a short-term block to new 40B projects. Tanner said this goal will already be accomplished with the Rosewood Way townhomes off Mill Street — itself a 40B project. While not all units are affordable housing, the entire complex counts.

The plan also needs to state what types of housing the town prefers. The PVPC did this with a survey it distributed at the Senior Center, as well as through the town website. A total of 87 people responded, many of whom were over age 55. A majority owned a single-family detached home, or a house unconnected to other houses, and 52% were retired.

Survey respondents stated they would prefer smaller homes for seniors looking to downsize, as well as starter homes for young people trying to stay in the town. They would also prefer cottage-style homes; accessory units, or a second dwelling built on the same property as a single-family home; mixed-use developments, or apartments built on top of businesses; senior housing; and housing accessible to those with disabilities.

The plan needs to show areas where the town is willing to change regulations to build subsidized affordable housing. The town could, for example, expand Residence A-3 districts, which allow multi-family housing like condos and townhomes. It could also permit mixed-use developments in the Business C district on Walnut Street. It could also create a “40R Smart Growth Overlay District,” which would have high-density buildings, constructed with financial incentives from the state.

The plan must show where the town would encourage future Chapter 40B developments, as well as parcels for which it will request the development of subsidized affordable housing. A town-owned property behind Brady Village on Franklin Street was suggested for both these categories.

Attendees were initially confused about encouraging 40B developments. Tanner and Housing Committee member Corinne Wingard said towns can take the initiative with a Chapter 40B project to ensure that it is placed in a desirable location, such as an area that already has high-density housing, and not a location where neighbors object.

Wingard said many in town need affordable housing.

“These are our neighbors, these are our friends, and in some cases these are us,” she said. “It’s not this evil thing you read about on the town [online] forums.”

Wingard said the town cannot change its zoning laws to keep out affordable housing, as Chapter 40B is a state law. Agawam resident Bill Bobskill asked why Agawam is “letting the state throw everything down our throats.” Wingard said it’s been the law since 1969. What Agawam can do is be proactive by choosing the location of the housing.

“I don’t think there’s been maybe one community in the entire state all these years that has ever successfully fought a 40B,” she said.

Asked if subsidized housing and affordable housing are the same thing, Tanner said for the purposes of the plan they are. Katherine Ratte, of PVPC, said housing can be affordable but not subsidized if someone has the income to pay for it. Tanner said only long-term subsidized units meet the state’s definition of affordable housing. Not all changes envisioned by the Housing Production Plan, like creating accessory apartments, will create subsidized housing.

“It’s always a debate whether to include things like that in this type of a plan for that reason, but it’s also good to get the town thinking about all kinds of housing that serve all kinds of needs, that would be affordable to a wide range of people,” she said.

Affordable housing projects, Tanner said, are nowadays usually mixed-income, with some residents needing government assistance and others not. This avoids the stigma typically associated with affordable housing.

Wingard said the housing plan should keep in mind the “missing middle,” people who don’t qualify for subsidized housing but can’t afford existing housing. Tanner said cottage-style developments, starter homes, and accessory apartments tend to address the missing middle and are developments Agawam residents want to see.

“You’re not saying you want high-rise apartments,” she said. “That’s clear.”

Speaking about the waitlist for senior housing, resident Donald Jerold said he was around number 4,300 on the list. Agawam seniors will not necessarily get first dibs on housing, because the list of available housing is statewide.

Wingard said when talking about developing more housing, especially denser housing, there will always be people unhappy with the location. Change is hard, she said.

“At some point you have to look at, I think, the greater good for the town,” she said.

Attendees were split on what type of housing they’d prefer. One wanted a mixture of all proposed housing developments. Another did not like the idea of mixed-use developments, as it requires multiple stories, which he thought trended toward high-rises. Another liked the idea of tiny homes, if they were affordable.

City Councilor Thomas Hendrickson said, as a young person, he lives with his parents because there’s nowhere affordable in Agawam. He said people in his circle were frustrated by renting, and he believes he and his friends would appreciate more condos in town.

“The ability to sell my condo back and get some money back from it is much better than renting and then when I go to move out, I get nothing for it,” he said.

After being reviewed and voted by the Planning Board and City Council, the plan will be submitted to the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities for state approval.

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