The draft of Natick’s Housing Production Plan refreshed with new data for 2021 has made its way through town boards a little later than planned due to the pandemic. But the plan has arrived in time to help the town lay out its goals and the strategies for reaching them in years to come.
The plan, now in the hands of the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing & Community Development, was sponsored by the Natick Affordable Housing Trust. It’s an update to the 2012 plan, which is no longer viable, and was completed over 18 months by the Natick Community & Economic Development Department after a consultancy started the work. Public input was accepted throughout the process, including via forums.
Proactive plans like these show the state that communities are serious about having at least 10% of their overall housing stock deemed affordable (Natick’s at 10.67%) as is statutorily required. Communities below that figure are vulnerable to unfriendly 40B projects, often squeezed into spots with disregard for neighbors, and that give developers a break on zoning rules in exchange for including affordable units within their projects.
Most communities in this area, including Wellesley, have hit the 10% mark. Though Natick’s neighbor was under siege by 40B developers in recent years, because all surrounding communities had hit the threshold, until it too reached 10% and issued a housing production plan of its own.
Hitting the threshold and having a state-approved housing production plan gives communities “safe harbor” when it comes to dealing with 40B plans. Such plans outline how communities can maintain safe harbor even if their population changes. Natick awaits population numbers from the latest census this fall.
“Having this plan in place and current is a good backstop if we were to fall below the 10% safe harbor threshold,” said Ted Fields, senior planner for Community & Economic Development, in briefing the Planning Board (which like the Select Board, approved the plan). Hear his remarks beginning at about the 2-hour, 13-minute mark of the Natick Pegasus recording.
The housing needs assessment in the report confirms the obvious. Housing’s expensive here, there’s not enough affordable housing, and it’s hard for people to find suitable downsizing properties. On the positive side, Natick median gross monthly rent of about $1,400 is somewhat lower than that of nearby communities, and if you’re looking to sell your house, you’ll probably make a mint.
Strategies embraced in the plan include more flexible zoning, public education about the need for more affordable housing, the use of town funds and land to support affordable housing, and a comprehensive permitting approach. Among ideas that could be considered are more modern town rules regarding accessory dwelling units, aka in-law apartments, that could be built into existing single-family homes.
Sometimes all these town plans and consulting projects can get blurred. One thing to note about the housing production plan is that it was crafted to sync up with the town’s 2030 master plan.
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