Gov. Healey calls for housing production during visit to Worcester affordable development

March 6, 2023 : MassLive, Tréa Lavery

During a tour of a new affordable housing development that recently opened in Worcester on Monday, Gov. Maura Healey said the project was an example of what the state desperately needs to address its housing crisis.

“For this commonwealth to move forward, we need more housing. We need more housing now. We needed more housing yesterday. We need housing in every community, in every region all across the state,” Healey said during her visit to Grand Street Commons. “We’ve got people who can’t afford a downpayment, kids who are going to graduate from Clark University next door and not going to be able to stay here because they can’t afford a student debt payment and also a rent payment. It is our responsibility as a commonwealth to do everything we can to increase housing.”

Grand Street Commons, a rental development with 48 units for mixed incomes, was developed by the Main South Community Development Corporation. The first residents began moving in in October, and Main South CDC Executive Director Steve Teasdale said he expects all of the units to be filled by April.

The CDC received about 1,700 applications for the 48 units, which were chosen by a lottery.

“We could have built another 16 of these projects around here and we still would have had applicants that were left over. And that’s not citywide, that’s just around this neighborhood,” Teasdale said. “Worcester’s economic boom and its growth is laudable. We all want Worcester to prosper, but at the same time, as we are prospering and we’re seeing market-driven development, we’re finding that people who have lived here all their lives have been priced out of being able to afford to stay here. And that is a real concern for everybody.”

Grand Street Commons resident Steve Wage said he learned about 18 months ago that he was being evicted from his home because the property owner wanted to cash in on rising market rates in Worcester. He said he spent months calling everywhere he could to try to find a home, but had extra trouble because he is disabled and needed an accessible unit.

Wage was able to secure a unit in one of the buildings at Grand Street Commons, and while he said he was grateful for that opportunity, he still had concerns about the struggles that others were facing.

“It’s a sad thing because I got this unit in a lottery,” Wage said. “So many people have no option whatsoever, they have no place to go. They’re on long waiting lists for years. And that’s not going to change immediately.”

Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said they hope to help address the housing shortage once their administration appoints its housing secretariat, a position Healey announced in January.

Driscoll added that providing more housing, and specifically affordable housing, will be a driver of economic growth in the state. She said that units like those at Grand Street Commons, aimed at residents making 60% or less of the area median income, are important for people working lower-paying jobs.

“That’s the person who’s handing you something over a counter this morning, maybe a cup of coffee that you bought, maybe somebody working in your schools, who’s in the cafeteria, who’s a paraprofessional,” she said. “Those are the folks we need in our community who often are finding it impossible to live in our gateway cities. Our communities that used to be the affordable place to live are no longer affordable.”

City Manager Eric Batista used Worcester as an example of the necessity of housing for creating jobs, pointing out the new Table Talk Pies factory just a block away.

“When we worked together with Table Talk to identify a location for the new headquarters, they were committed to the neighborhood, because they knew a large amount of their employees lived right here in this neighborhood,” he said. “With the successful siting of that building, now employees can walk and bike to work.”

Grand Street Commons was funded by a combination of private and public funding, including $1.3 million in HOMES funds from the city of Worcester. Funding was also provided by the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, Clark University, MassDevelopment, Massachusetts Housing Partnership and low-income housing tax credits.