There is an affordable housing crisis in Worcester. From 1980-90, more than 7,600 units of new housing were built in Worcester, but in the following decade, only 1,400 were produced. The vacancy rate at the Worcester Housing Authority is less than 1%, leaving few available units of public housing. Worcester CDCs produce approximately 100 units per year, whereas the City estimates that 400-500 units per year are needed. As the Greater Boston area and the 128 and 495 corridors have become overbuilt and unaffordable, development pressure has moved west. Once a bastion of affordability, Worcester housing prices have skyrocketed more than 250% in the past several years and new, high-priced developments are springing up all over the city. The dream of home ownership is becoming unattainable for the average Worcester family.
As housing prices have climbed, rents have followed, displacing many of Worcester's lower-income families. Middle-class families now occupy neighborhoods that have traditionally been the home of working-class families. These displaced families then move into the lower-income neighborhoods, in turn displacing low-income families. In response, some low-income residents move to Southbridge, which is more affordable, but has no public transit and few jobs. Others end up in the city's homeless shelters, which are now overflowing. In response to this crisis, area churches have formed the Interfaith Hospitality network, allowing their church basements and other large spaces to be turned into temporary shelters. While there is a movement afoot to establish an affordable housing trust fund, immediate action is needed to stem the flow of dislocation and combat the rise in homelessness.
Worcester Common Ground serves the lowest-income neighborhoods in the city. As housing prices and rents increase, the Piedmont and Elm Park areas have become a haven for low and moderate income families seeking affordable housing. Because of the increased demand, rents here are increasing, as well. The housing stock is more than 100 years old and much of it is in poor condition as a result of disinvestment. The neighborhood has suffered from illegal dumping and neglect, as well. The neighborhood also suffers from economic isolation; although it abuts the downtown corridor, there is a high rate of under- and unemployment among area residents.
As a community development corporation, WCG acts as a developer of last resort, rehabilitating abandoned housing and acquiring parcels of vacant land for new construction, which provides area residents with affordable rental units, the opportunity to own their own home, and contributes to an increased level of neighborhood investment, pride and stability. The entire city benefits as these properties are returned to the tax rolls. This work is augmented by neighborhood initiatives, which bring people together to work collectively on issues of concern and to contribute to making their neighborhood a better place to live.
Worcester Common Ground, Inc. 5 Piedmont Street Worcester, MA 01610 USA508-754-0908
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