Massachusetts expands funding for housing programs: How those changes may help New Bedford

NEW BEDFORD — New and pending legislation may put New Bedford in a better position to benefit from changes to housing programs.

New Bedford Office of Housing and Community Development Director Josh Amaral said it’s expected that two housing programs on the state level and parts of the bond bill once signed will have a positive impact on New Bedford’s housing challenges.

“We want New Bedford to take full advantage,” he said. “This is a program that has been around for a decade, and a New Bedford development has never actually received any tax credits through that program.”

A rendering of the future building can be seen to the right as Steve Beauregard, President of the New Bedford Development Corporation, speaks during the groundbreaking to officially launch construction of a new five-story mixed commercial and residential building on Union Street in New Bedford.
A rendering of the future building can be seen to the right as Steve Beauregard, President of the New Bedford Development Corporation, speaks during the groundbreaking to officially launch construction of a new five-story mixed commercial and residential building on Union Street in New Bedford.

In October, Gov. Maura Healey signed a tax package into law that included the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. More recently, she proposed a $4 million Housing Bond Bill called the Affordable Homes Act.

Amaral said he’s most excited about the HDIP program, describing it as a really big tool to stimulate development in New Bedford. It increases the annual program cap from $10 to $57 million in 2023 and after that to $30 million annually.

Earlier this year, the City Council expanded the HDIP zone throughout the city Previously, the only projects that were eligible for funding in New Bedford were in the immediate downtown area.

“We’re excited now that there’s actually increased funding so that we might be able to propose projects all over the city whereas in the past we were just confined to that zone,” he said.

Project renderings, from left, 10 @ 8th; 117 Union St.; Hillman Street Firehouse; 18 and Union; Holy Family.
Project renderings, from left, 10 @ 8th; 117 Union St.; Hillman Street Firehouse; 18 and Union; Holy Family.

Even when there were downtown developments that could potentially be a good fit, not enough money was allocated for that program. He said $10 million a year was allocated to the program across the whole state. He said cities like Worcester and Haverill have received funding for multiple projects

Amaral said recently the 28-unit Route 18 and Union Street project benefitted slightly from a tax increment exemption arrangement, which is part of that program and allows some savings on property taxes over the first few years of the development. However, they received none of the tax credits, which the money to help with the development comes from.

“We’re excited about that,” he said. “I think that boost will be really powerful for us in New Bedford, and we’re trying to position ourselves to take the most advantage of it.”

Annual tax credit cap increases by $20 million

As for the $40 to $60 million increase in the annual program cap for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, he said the increased funding will be a helpful tool in accomplishing Healey’s goals. It’s a tax credit for taxpayers who invest in a low-income housing project.

“While arguably needed more in Greater Boston, increased LIHTC funding will help make more mixed-income projects in New Bedford possible and will hopefully provide more needed affordable rental housing in our surrounding towns as well,” he said. 

What New Bedford might get out of the Massachusetts Housing Bond Bill

He said elements of the Housing Bond Bill are also of interest, including additional funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund since many projects need additional financial support from the government to become reality.

“More money in that pool will certainly help us and keys in on a priority of ours to increase housing that’s affordable and attainable for New Bedford residents.

When New Bedford put out its housing plan six months ago, he said a few strategies in there are echoed in the governor’s proposal, specifically increased funding for first-time homeowners, and an enhanced version that helps with downpayment assistance and housing costs.

He said Healey has proposed an additional $50 million for that purpose so they are happy to see that.

Another strategy in the city’s housing plan is removing barriers to dwelling units that are under 900 square feet, such as a basement or attic attached to a home or a detached structure such as a garage that gets converted into an apartment.

He said these dwellings are popular among multigenerational families who may want to move a family member onto the property and are common in the city but the process to get them properly permitted has not always been so clear.

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He said Healey has proposed allowing people to build these dwelling units by right so they would need limited zoning and permitting approval, and some parking restrictions would be lifted. He said off-street parking is usually required and the project isn’t feasible.

Amaral said the changes to the city’s ordinances have not been drafted, but he thinks many of her proposals are in line with some of the city’s proposals and validates they are on the right track. He said it’s common across the country.

More proposed bond bill changes

He said he’s also excited about the proposed creation of a Momentum Fund in the bond bill that would allow the state greater flexibility to partner with developers to make projects successful with the state having a finance stake in a project.

He said in essence the state would be able to take equity positions and invest in housing developments, which is different than the way other programs work by making loans or grants to facilitate it all, and the funds would be really helpful to New Bedford.

“Any other flexible option will help us try to fit some of those hard-to-fund projects, smaller developments and developments with emerging developers that are sponsoring them,” he said.

He said the reaction to it has been resoundingly positive in the housing industries from the nonprofit side as well as the building trades and development communities.

“Kudos to the governor for putting together an aggressive plan to tackle this problem statewide when there’s close to 200,000 units the state is short, and so we have to get to work preserving the housing that we have and building new housing,” he said.

He said New Bedford is well positioned to benefit from the changes and proposed changes in the bond bill that will go before the state legislature and may not be voted on until the summer at the end of the fiscal year.

“We will be following it closely and will be working with our legislative delegation to make sure that New Bedford’s voice is heard in the process,” he said.

Standard-Times staff writer Kathryn Gallerani can be reached at kgallerani@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kgallreporter. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.

This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: How Massachusetts housing program changes may help New Bedford