Affordable Housing Problem
To the Editor.
Rising housing costs remain one of the most pressing issues that We, as a Nation, State, Region and City presently face. Current home prices and rents are not sustainable for our City’s working-class families. It is for this reason that I applaud the hard work and dedication of the members of Housing Lynn Steering Committee over the past 18 months in creating a Housing Production Plan for the City of Lynn.
It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic necessarily limited the number of voices who could contribute to the creation of the Housing Plan. Between November, 2019 through the preparation of the initial draft of the Plan, only 586 persons participated in its formation. Even assuming that every individual only participated in one on-line forum, a mere .006% of the Lynn’s residents provided input into the Plan. No Lynn City Council member was appointed to the Steering Committee and the Housing Plan indicates that no employees of the Lynn School Department, Lynn Law Department or any of Lynn’s Financial Departments were consulted during the preparation of the Plan. Neither were any developers or investors, who would ultimately be required to finance much of the recommendations contained in the Housing Production Plan, included on the Steering Committee. It is for this reason that I, as Council President, requested all relevant municipal Department Head stakeholders, including the Superintendent of Schools, City Solicitor and Chief Financial Officer, review the Plan and submit written findings and recommendations to the full Lynn City Council.
No viable Housing Production Plan can realistically be considered without an in-depth analysis into the effect the Plan would have on our aging and overcrowded public school system. As a result of a limited commercial tax base, an older residential housing stock and lack of past commitment to our capital needs by our City officials, Lynn possesses the oldest school inventory in the Commonwealth. Cobbett Elementary constructed 1850; Aborn – 1897; Washington – 1900; Fallon – 1900; Brickett – 1911; Lincoln Thompson – 1913; Pickering; 1916; Sewall Anderson – 1920; Connery – 1928; Harrington – 1930. Sadly, more than one third of a school buildings were constructed before F.D.R. was elected President.
Our overcrowded schools are literally splitting at the seams to a point we will require modular classrooms next year within the Lynn English High School Tracy Avenue Parking Lot. It is unacceptable that children we are preparing for college and to enter the workforce will be assigned to a modular classroom learning environment. On average, five hundred new school aged children enroll in our public schools on an annual basis. It is for this reason that it was disheartening to see that the Superintendent of Schools and Chief of Inspectional Services who are both responsible for providing sufficient classroom space for our children were not asked to play a major role in the creation of the Housing Production Plan. While the Plan envisions current Lynners will be given priority placement in newly constructed affordable housing units, I am aware of no plan to address who will be moving into the newly vacated Lynn units. Without a simultaneous plan to address our school overcrowding, our children will be significantly harmed.
For nearly thirty years, the City of Lynn has expended tens of thousands of dollars engaging the services of consultants to produce development plans along the Waterfront and within the Central Business District. The City enacted zoning amendments to encourage significant mixed-use development in the Downtown and along the Lynnway to increase our stagnant and insufficient tax base. The City expended millions of dollars to relocate power lines that long provided a stranglehold on any real meaningful development along the approximate two plus miles of oceanfront property. Finally, after decades of patience and diligence, Lynn is seeing the burgeoning development envisioned by our experts, consultants and elected officials. Multiple mixed-use high rises in the downtown are under active construction. The North Harbor/former Beacon Chevrolet site is ready to open this summer after more than 40 years of serving as a vacant wasteland along the Atlantic Ocean.
These projects have resulted in millions of dollars in building permits and undoubtedly will provide our City with desperately needed tax dollars to assist Lynn in replacing our aging and delipidated school facilities and repave our crumbling roadways. This additional tax revenue, along with the construction jobs created and new businesses opening to support new residential units, will provide City officials perhaps for the first time in fifty years, options to reduce our ever-rising property tax bills for our residents, whether they be homeowners paying the tax bill directly or tenants forced to pay these same taxes through ever increasing rents.
The four most recent projects currently being undertaken in Lynn required the City to provide no tax breaks to any developer and investor. Let’s be clear – tax breaks to large developers necessarily mean that the tax burden is shifted from the developer to Lynn homeowners and tenants. While these projects have commenced without a need for local tax breaks or incentives, there exists great uncertainty in the current Lynn residential rental market, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the past four years, I have had hundreds of conversations with developers where I have advocated for the inclusion of affordable housing in new construction in the Central Business. As a result of the unknown rental market for high rises residential units in Lynn, rising construction and material costs due to COVID and the uncertain post COVID Boston workplace world, developers simply cannot secure investors and financing to back affordable projects in Lynn at this time. One recent national developer, after reviewing the anticipated construction costs and rental income in Lynn, requested a astronomical fifteen-year tax incentive agreement with the City with a commitment to merely five percent affordable housing units for those earning 80% of the average median income in Lynn.
The affordable housing issue is not just a Lynn problem, but a problem facing the Greater Boston area and Northeast region as a whole. It is undeniable that Lynn has risen to the challenge and presently offers more affordable housing that any neighboring, abutting municipality. Approximately 1 in 3 Lynn residents presently receive some sort housing subsidies or assistance. All of my colleagues on the City Council recognize and appreciate the seriousness of the affordable housing crises in Lynn and the surrounding areas. I wish to ensure that any affordable housing plan does not have the unintended consequence of halting future investment in the City of Lynn. The skyline in Lynn had remained virtually unchanged since the Great Lynn Fire in 1981. Only recently, has the City seen developers and builders willing to invest in Lynn. It is imperative that Lynn simultaneously addresses our affordable housing problem along with its desperate need to replace its 100-year-old plus public-school inventory. Only through improved educational opportunities will Lynn break its cycle of poverty and dependency upon social services. To that end, a careful thorough review process where all voices are heard is required.
Darren P. Cyr,
Lynn City Council