PEPPERELL -- The Affordable Housing Committee is moving forward with establishing a new housing production plan to become certified by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
The North Middlesex Council of Government has been hired to do the technical assistance portion of the housing plan. The services provided by NMCOG will be paid through the combination of a state grant and a regional planning grant totaling $15,000.
The HPP is part of Chapter 40B regulations; the regulation was established as a strategy for planning and developing more affordable housing. After the town creates an HPP, it goes to the DHCD to be approved.
From there, the department can grant a certificate of compliance if the town builds affordable housing within its approved plan each year.
If the town meets their production goals, they can become certified for one year. Once a plan is approved and the town is certified, the Zoning Board of Appeals has the right to deny a Comprehensive Permit application for Chapter 40B housing; the denial of the application is considered "consistent with local needs" under Mass General Law.
Establishing the housing would also encourage growth within the community, according to the committee.
"(Right now,) we aren't attracting the 20- to 40-year-olds at all," said Town Administrator John Moak.
The HPP expires every five years. Pepperell's last HPP expired in November 2011. Under Mass General Law, Chapter 40B housing could be established and potentially supersede the town's zoning.
The committee heard from representatives from the DHCD and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership about establishing a new HPP at their Wednesday night meeting.
Phillip DeMartino, DHCD technical assistance program coordinator, said plans must contain a comprehensive housing-needs assessment, affordable-housing goals and implementation strategies. The needs assessment will include census data analysis, a study of demographics and an evaluation of current housing.
The implementation can be trickier, said Susan Connelly, director of community housing initiatives at the Mass Housing Partnership.
"Lots of communities have plans but haven't IDed any zoning that supports that plan," she said.
Depending on the assessment and plans, implementation strategies might include zoning changes or the adoption of a Community Preservation Act.
Although the HPP itself will not need to go before Town Meeting at any point, any eventual zoning changes or land purchases during the implementation stage would need to be voted upon by the town.
Committee member Al Patenaude expressed concerns over the best way to educate residents who might not otherwise be receptive. Patenaude said while he was a strong supporter of affordable housing and wanted to see it expand, others in town might not feel the same way.
"There are people that feel that additional housing equals additional children equals additional taxes," he said.
Connelly said it was crucial that the plan is a comprehensive as possible and that "It reflects the character and desires of the community. All of that becomes so, so important."