METHUEN — A housing production plan developed by the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission and recently approved by the City Council focuses heavily on the need to create more affordable housing options in the city.
The 80-page plan is part of the commission's grant-funded effort to produce a regional housing plan for the Merrimack Valley. It also addresses an ongoing problem for communities in the region — how to meet the state's 10 percent affordable housing threshold.
Methuen is hovering just under the 10 percent of affordable housing stock required by the state's Chapter 40B law. In municipalities that fail to meet that threshold, developers have more power to push projects that include affordable units through local zoning boards.
Projects have been approved in the past couple of years that would put Methuen over that 10 percent — including a controversial 156-unit apartment building at 83 Pleasant Valley St. — but building permits need to be pulled in order for those units, and others, to stay on the city's housing inventory, said William Buckley, director of economic and community development.
The approval of the housing plan, however, helps give Methuen back some power over 40B projects, Buckley said.
“It strengthens our argument by saying the city of Methuen is actually doing a lot to assess our housing needs and we continue to plan for the future,” he said.
Not having a housing plan has been "a check against us," when it comes to defending against projects ill-suited for Methuen, Buckley said.
To help increase affordable housing, Methuen's housing production plan calls for development of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund in the next two years, partnering with for- and non-profit developers and creating an inclusionary housing bylaw in the next year.
The housing production plan also addresses the city's rising population of seniors. Methuen's population of adults ages 65 and older is projected to almost double between 2015 and 2035, while other age groups decline, according to the planning commission.
The plan encourages Methuen to participate in the Age-Friendly Communities Program and provide ways to offset tax increases for seniors in single-family homes and condos, such as a work program that allows those ages 60 or older to volunteer their time on a city project in exchange for a property tax reduction of up to $1,000.
It also pushes for greater preservation efforts, such as using historic preservation tax credits to renovate existing housing, or converting abandoned structures into affordable housing.
Methuen was the 13th of 14 Merrimack Valley communities to adopt a housing production plan, which spans through 2022. Lawrence is expected to take up its plan early in 2019, said Merrimack Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Karen Sawyer Conard.
It will now go to the state Department of Housing and Community Development for final approval.
A draft version of the plan is available on the city's website, http://www.cityofmethuen.net.
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.