✍️From our newest writer:🏘️On Worcester’s New Inclusionary Zoning Law🏠

By Nahani Meuse

Nahani🌺. photo submitted.

We are making progress, but it’s simply not enough and there is far more work to do! Following the Worcester City Council vote a few months ago, Worcester will now enact Inclusionary Zoning. That is just a fancy way to say that new housing developments will have to set aside a certain percentage of units as “affordable.”

But what is “affordable”? Per the new inclusionary zoning ordinance, new developments of 12 or more units will have to set aside 10% – 15% of units as affordable — 10 if the units are priced at 60% AMI and 15 if they’re priced at 80% AMI.
So if the data from the US Census Bureau in 2020 is accurate, and the median income in Worcester for
an individual is $28,000 a year, a 60% AMI apartment would cost $1400 a month, and a 80% AMI apartment would cost $1866 a month. The average rent price in Worcester is $1724 a month.

While these numbers and this new ordinance would help some folks and is a positive step in the right
direction; it is just not enough.

I’m a social worker in Worcester. I’ve worked in homeless services in this city for more than 14 years. I’ve operated several homeless shelters, I have developed outreach teams to serve the people who sleep unsheltered in our city, I’ve continued to advocate for a housing first model and affordable housing. I see a distinct difference between “affordable housing” and “attainable low-income housing.” These are not interchangeable.

Hundreds of the homeless individuals I serve receive only disability as income, ranging from $700 – $900 a month. That’s it. Where will they find housing? Please don’t suggest a ‘subsidy’ or ‘public housing’ because we’ve already exhausted those options and hundreds sit on wait lists for an apartment or voucher for more than 10 years! Where should they live in that decade, as they wait for an apartment?

What about the senior citizens who sleep at my homeless shelter after losing their lifelong home? They survive on a social security check of $800 – $1600 each month. Where will they find housing? If they’re
lucky enough to be on the upper end of that range and bring home $1600 each month, in theory they could possibly pay a $1400 a month rent … but only if they don’t have medication co-pays, any utility
expenses, or want to eat.

How about the single mothers working for minimum wage, 40 hours each week and overtime as they support their two children? They’re lucky to bring home $1800 – $2100 a month. So if they obtain an apartment with a rent of $1400 a month, they will have $400 – $700 left to pay for transportation, utilities, insurances, clothing, groceries, household essentials. Do you see the issue here?

Let’s talk about the individuals who are surviving with absolutely zero income. Truly receiving nothing other than maybe SNAP benefits. Many are working to find employment, or in the waiting process to obtain disability benefits, or waiting for their disability rating from the VA but currently have $0 of income; where can they find a safe place to call home?

College educated, young professionals working full time in human services are working for about $20 an hour; bi-weekly bringing home anywhere from $900 – $1400 after taxes, insurance, etc so a grand total of $1800 – $2800 a month. Again, if they find one of these “affordable” apartments for a rent of $1400 a month, they’re still paying between 50% – 78% of their income on housing!

These numbers are not hyperbole. These are the situations I see every single day in the hundreds of
people that I work to help exit homelessness. Many people assume that the homeless in our city somehow ‘chose’ to be homeless; when in all reality, we as a community have stacked the deck against anyone who is economically disadvantaged.

We as a city are cutting off life-long residents at the knees with ever-rising rents, predatory landlords who lease people into uninhabitable properties, decades long waitlists for public housing, and no safe year-round shelter option in the city. Let’s not even get in to the rental requirements popping up every day demanding people make 3X the rent in income, have a credit score of 680+, a solid rental history, no prior evictions, etc.

Inclusionary zoning is a win for affordable housing as a whole; but it simply does not go far enough. We need no-income-low-income housing that doesn’t take years to acquire. We need a safe, service-rich, year-round shelter option in this city that treats those served with dignity, decency and respect. We need to put our people, our most valuable asset, first! Everyone deserves a safe place to call “home.”

Housing should be a human right, not a privilege.