Fox Town Hall 3-15-18

Foxboro Town Hall.

With Foxboro’s senior population expected to increase 38 percent by 2030, it stands to reason that many older residents will be playing with house money — gambling on finding suitable housing at realistic price points.

That was just one of several takeaways from a town-sponsored forum on housing attended by some 50 residents at town hall last week.

The forum was the first of several aimed at shaping consensus for a “housing production plan,” a state-required blueprint identifying future housing needs and prospective strategies to meet them.

In most cases this plan focuses on community obligations under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable housing law, which allows developers to bypass planning and zoning regulations in towns where less than 10 percent of housing is defined as affordable.

But because Foxboro has already exceeded the 10-percent threshold, with 859 units (12.5 percent) certified as affordable, the plan will serve more as a general road map guiding future housing options.

According to Alexis Smith, a housing and land-use planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Foxboro is just one of just 67 Bay State communities to meet the 10 percent affordable housing goal.

To qualify for such deed-restricted Chapter 40B housing units, residents must make no more than 80 percent of the area median income, which in Foxboro and surrounding towns is $113,000 — a figure that fluctuates according to household size.

Currently, Smith said, more than 2,000 local families qualify as low income under state guidelines.

Assisted by Town Planner Paige Duncan, Smith walked participants at last week’s forum through a data-driven statistical snapshot of demographic, economic and housing trends.

In general, local population growth — which increased by roughly 500 to 17,500 since the year 2000 — has lagged behind most area communities, Smith said. And with 88 percent of residents identifying as Caucasian, Foxboro is much less diverse than the state.

Within that framework, however, the town’s demographic makeup has skewed considerably.

Foxboro’s senior population, already estimated at 3,000 residents, is expected to top 4,000 by 2030 — with the number of young adults age 20-34 seen as decreasing by 13 percent over that same period.

“Seniors have unique housing needs, as many of you know,” Smith observed.

This same trend was evident in school district enrollment, which declined by 8 percent over the past decade.

According to Smith, Foxboro’s median household income of $98,100 is about $24,000 higher than the state median of $74,200. Despite that, however, she said that 34 percent of local households and 55 percent of elderly households would qualify as low income.

That’s mainly because the cost of single-family homes — and to a lesser degree, local rents — continues to escalate, with the median price now $415,000.

Smith pointed out that figure is roughly $70,000 more than a prospective buyer earning the household median of $98,100 could afford.

Smith also revealed a predictable, but still striking, income disparity between owner and renter households — with the former earning $123,300 on average and the latter earning just $62,200.

With most financial experts suggesting that housing costs not exceed 30 percent of income, that means 22 percent of the town’s owner households, 40 percent of senior households and a whopping 45 percent of renter households are considered “cost burdened,” she said.

Following the 30-minute overview, participants were reconfigured into smaller groups to solicit feedback on a series of housing related topics.

One group, facilitated by Assistant Town Manager Michael Johns, lamented the “unaffordability of affordable housing,” while others cited an epidemic of “tear-downs” — smaller single-family homes purchased by builders, who then tear them down to construct higher priced units.

“Everybody’s got a different story,” Duncan said.

According to Smith, Foxboro’s housing production plan will be submitted to both the board of selectmen and planning board for approval, most likely sometime next summer.

The final document must include an assessment of community housing needs, an analysis of potential obstacles, numerical production goals linked to specific construction sites, and a strategic implementation plan.

“There are going to be many more opportunities for discussion in the winter and spring,” Smith said.

A working group consisting of planning board member Ron Bresse, Selectwoman Leah Gibson, Assistant Town Planner Gaby Jordan and residents-at-large Kathy Brady, Jared Craig, John McDonald and Linda Shea has been assembled to provide input on elements of the plan.

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