Amesbury is a wonderful place to live! Our vibrant downtown surrounded by diverse neighborhoods and natural areas lends a small-town feeling, while our location in the growing Merrimack Valley and on the regional highway system provides easy access to a wide range of jobs and services. Current residents want to stay in Amesbury, while others want to move here because they are attracted to the City’s thriving downtown, resources, and quality of life.
At the same time, Amesbury—along with the region and the state—faces a crisis as housing needs outpace the production of new housing units. This imbalance threatens our community’s future in a number of ways: young people who grew up here cannot afford to remain or move back; municipal staff are priced out of the local housing market; and local businesses have difficulty attracting or retaining employees.
Affordability isn’t our only housing issue; a diversity of housing types and locations is also important. Diverse housing options support our schools and our commercial establishments and provides opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to live here. Smaller units are needed both by young adults starting out and by older residents who want to downsize and remain in the community. Creating housing in a variety of locations —rural, suburban and downtown – is also desired and is similar to how Amesbury has grown over the years.
To address these housing-related issues, the City created the AT HOME IN AMESBURY campaign. We want young people, older adults, people with disabilities, families of different sizes and forms, municipal employees and others, to feel at home in Amesbury with housing that they can afford and that meets their needs. This citywide effort to meet the need for more housing, especially affordable housing, is currently underway. This effort includes:
Researching policies that encourage the creation of additional housing;
Updating studies that provide a roadmap to the production of housing; and
Supporting several housing development projects in the pipeline.
“Affordable housing is a critical cornerstone in attaining a secure life and future, and life changing events as job loss, long-term illness, emergencies, retirement and aging should not force people such as myself to be on a waiting list for years to gain access to proper affordable housing. ” - Kathy Troiano, Amesbury Resident
Amesbury’s 2018 Housing Production Plan (HPP) includes policies and programs to help achieve the City’s commitment to providing affordable housing. The HPP must be updated every 5 years, and the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission is currently working with the City on the next update to reflect changing needs and trends.
The Amesbury Affordable Housing Trust is charged with developing new and managing existing affordable housing units. The Housing Trust has a separate fund outside the general municipal budget, that is dedicated to solely to creating and preserving affordable housing.
The City has an Affordable Housing Ordinance that requires housing projects with more than 7 dwelling units to include at least 15% of the units as affordable housing.
There are a number of reasons including cost and affordability, unit size and layout, and location. Also many young people and older adults often prefer to live in small units located in neighborhoods within walkable distance of amenities and services. However, over half (60%) of units in Amesbury are single, detached units.
The City is taking a proactive and comprehensive approach to addressing the housing crisis so that we can have more control over our future. Creating more housing options (size and types) throughout the City, will help to meet the needs of existing residents and the needs of potential new residents.
This in turn will help to support a wider diversity of people living in Amesbury, making it a healthier, more resilient community. Communities that are inclusive are often more innovative and economically competitive, more creative in addressing the community’s challenges, provide access to a wider range of experiences that make life more interesting, and deepen our understanding of the world around us.
Housing development is directly connected to other community priorities and goals, including:
healthy school enrollment
multi-modal transportation options
natural resource protection
Community Character. A proactive and coordinated effort to create more housing provides an opportunity to improve the character of some areas in the City with streetscape and facade improvements, infill development and reuse of vacant properties. The City will work with developers to ensure that developments include pedestrian and bicycle connections such as sidewalks, trails, crosswalks, and bikeways. Where appropriate, developers will have to reserve a percentage of open space that they will then maintain.
Healthy Schools. Housing growth will also support our public schools. Amesbury has been experiencing a decline in school enrollment, and new families will ensure that we have the resources necessary to create a strong student body
Active Transportation. Building new multi-family housing near schools, retail areas, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure will make it more likely that residents of these units will walk or bike to some of their destinations and have easier access to employment and amenities. This can help to reduce traffic congestion and expand local demand thereby increasing the potential for additional commercial growth.
EVERYONE! Creating more diverse housing types – and more affordable housing – will benefit a range of people including older adults wishing to downsize, young people wanting to move to town, existing and future employees, and others who wish to live in Amesbury.
A more diverse housing stock also benefits those of us who already live here and don’t have housing needs. When City employees (like teacher and police officers) and other local workers are able to live close to their jobs, commutes are shorter, which means less traffic congestion and more time at home with family. It also means a more “complete community,” one in which people live and work in the same City, are more connected, and know and look out for one another. Another example is that if older adults can find housing appropriate to their needs in Amesbury, and as a result continue living “in town,” Amesbury can continue to be a tight-knit community, one with inter-generational connections. And more broadly, the more housing units there are, the more affordable all units will be for everyone.
As is the case with any kind of development, residents might worry that new housing units will have a negative impact on the quality of life in the community. In Amesbury, concerns include: increased traffic, loss of open space and changes to neighborhood character.
Traffic. All new growth will generate some new traffic, and residents may be concerned about the additional traffic congestion that could result from adding housing units. An advantage of planned development (as opposed to incremental growth) is that these potential impacts can be identified and managed through conversations with developers and the City’s permitting process. Large projects, in particular, can be required to mitigate their predicted off-site impacts.
Open Space. As with all types of development, new housing can result in the loss of open space, with impacts on both the health of natural systems and the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. The City is focusing on protecting open space through infill development, more sustainable development processes, and incorporating green infrastructure.
Community Character. New residential developments can be designed to complement the character of the neighborhood and community through the use of design standards and guidelines combined with a regulatory review process.
The fact that this is a planned approach to producing more housing gives us the opportunity to mitigate the impacts.
“One issue growing at an exponential rate all over the Commonwealth is the economic divide between minimum wage and the cost of affordable housing. Affordable housing in Amesbury isn’t a “should do”, or a “can do” it’s an absolute “must do” and we as community leaders must make every effort to show the rest of the State that affordable housing is the key to increasing economic mobility and reducing generational poverty.“ - V/r, Craig J. Bailey, Chief of Police