In line with our mission to advance equity and inclusion through supporting initiatives for systemic change in Winchester, the Network for Social Justice strongly supports a “Yes” vote on the referendum to proceed with the planned mixed-use, mixed-income development on the Waterfield parcel in Winchester Center, scheduled for June 22. In the words of Residents for Waterfield, we believe this vote “will significantly impact the vibrancy and inclusivity of our community.”
Support for this Referendum
A “yes” vote will enable the town to move forward with the agreement negotiated with Civico. This agreement has been approved by the Select Board and a two-thirds majority of Town Meeting. In addition, both the Planning Board and the Housing Partnership Board have voted unanimously at their most recent meetings to support this development.
This past spring the Network collaborated closely with these Boards to provide a two-part educational program on diversifying housing options in Winchester. The Network believes that the Waterfield development, by diversifying Winchester’s housing stock, will advance the growth of this town as an anti-racist community. The project aligns with Winchester’s Human Rights Statement, as well as the Joint Statement on Anti-racism and Police Brutality published in June 2020, which was signed by the Select Board, the School Committee, the Town Manager, the Superintendent, as well as the Network.
Pertinent background to Winchester’s housing landscape and the Waterfield parcel
Winchester’s housing stock is predominantly larger, single-family homes, with an average price over $1 million (Zillow). Smaller units and rental options are scarce. Under the state law commonly known as Chapter 40B, all communities are required to have a minimum of 10% of their housing stock designated as “affordable” for households earning no more than 80% of the Greater Boston Area Median Income. As of December 2020, Winchester had one of the lowest percentages of housing affordable for low- and middle-income households in the state, 3.7%. Because of this low percentage, the town has been targeted by companies seeking to use the provisions of Chapter 40B to build very large, 300-unit housing projects that can exceed town zoning.
In 2018 the town adopted a Housing Production Plan (HPP) to start addressing the low percentage of affordable units, and the Waterfield lot was identified for a transit-oriented, mixed-income housing development. The Civico project approved by Town Meeting in May would bring 60 rental apartments in a 4-story, energy-efficient building with public parking and two new retail spaces facing Waterfield Road. Forty of those units would be deemed affordable for people/families annually earning between 30% and 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is approximately $160,000.
In the spring of 2018, Town Meeting voted by a two-thirds majority to “lease, sell, convey, release, or otherwise dispose of any interest” in the Waterfield lot “subject to the Town’s acquiring a restriction requiring that the Property be used for affordable housing purposes.” That vote preceded the Request for Proposals and the work of the town Boards. It is important to recognize that there is a history of significant (2/3 vote) support by Town Meeting for this type of development on that lot.
Rationale for the NFSJ’s Support for Diversifying Winchester’s Housing Stock through the Waterfield development
- Increasing diversity through expanding Winchester’s housing stock will enrich town culture, benefit all residents, particularly our youth, and support a multiethnic diverse community that can be a model for other communities striving towards desegregating greater Boston.
- Diversified housing will enable people of all abilities to live in Winchester, meaning people can age in place and those with disabilities can establish themselves in independent lifestyles in familiar neighborhoods near loved ones. The NFSJ agrees with the Winchester Housing Partnership Board (WHPB) that “the mix of incomes and rental levels in the building will offer people with a range of incomes and abilities a place to call home and will help make our Town a more inclusive community.”
- The Civico agreement follows the town’s due process. According to WHPB, it was “discussed for more than 3 years and has been approved by a number of Town Boards. The selection of a developer was the subject of a competitive RFP process with the assistance of the town’s development consultant and the state’s housing finance agency.” Furthermore, the Waterfield development was approved by a 2/3 vote of Town Meeting in May, following recommendations by the Planning Board, the Select Board, and the Finance Committee.
- The Waterfield development will facilitate a financial boost for the Winchester business community, both with an influx of new residents living downtown, as well as with additional multiethnic businesses in the center of town that will draw and retain visitors and external commercial traffic.
- The agreement will maintain Winchester’s ‘Safe Harbor.’ Currently Winchester has “Safe Harbor” status through March 21, 2022, due to the approved Housing Production Plan (HPP). This Safe Harbor, which enables the town to maintain control over 40B developments, will only be maintained if the town continually adds subsidized housing units, as outlined in the approved HPP. The Waterfield development will count as adding 60 units to the subsidized housing inventory.
The NFSJ believes that the Waterfield development, which will diversify Winchester’s housing stock, is consistent with its position to advocate for initiatives that advance equity and inclusion and support the growth of Winchester as an anti-racist community. Thus, the NFSJ supports a “Yes” vote in the June 22 Special Election on Article 6, which will authorize the Select Board to enter into a Land Development Agreement with Civico for the Waterfield parcel and to proceed with the negotiation of the full terms of the Ground Lease.