FRAMINGHAM – On Tuesday, September 21 with little acknowledgement, the City of Framingham’s apartment moratorium ended at 11:59 p.m.
Enacted in September 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the moratorium was put more in place to get a handle on the apartments already permitted, their impact on traffic and schools, and to fine tune a growth plan going forward. It was not really trying to halt development as the pandemic had done that.
How did the moratorium come about?
Residents had told city leaders in 2017 and again in 2019, there were too many apartments in the City of Framingham. And many candidates for Mayor and the City Council in those years said they would support a short apartment moratorium to voters.
“While Framingham has recently permitted or constructed more than 1,000 new apartment units, it has not studied and has no plans to mitigate the impacts of these units of municipal services, schools and roadways,” wrote the petitioners to the City Council.
At that same time in March 2020, District 1 City Councilor Christine Long, the long-time Planning Board Chair submitted an order to the 11-member City Council calling for an apartment moratorium for up to one-year.
In August 2020, the 11-member Framingham City Council voted 10-1 for a 9-month moratorium on the construction of new multi-unit housing in the City of Framingham.
Mayor Yvonne Spicer, who was against the moratorium, vetoed the order.
But on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, the City Council overwhelming voted to override the veto. The Mayor signed the moratorium into law on September 22, 2020.
In May of 2021, the City Council voted to extend the moratorium for an additional 3 months.
District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini, who moved to override the veto, said Tuesday that the said in May the extension was needed so the Spicer administration has time to develop housing growth strategy and finalize and present studies on traffic and economic development in the City of Framingham.
“There’s nobody in charge and no consistent plan or point person for how we’re dealing with these apartments and how we’re dealing with the integration of these units,” Stefanini said.
Since 2016, more than 1,419 units were permitted in the City of Framingham with the concentration of 875+ new units in the Central Business District.
Those new apartments are having an impact on South Framingham, including Dudley Road, Mt. Wayte, Franklin Street, Union Avenue, Route 126 and Route 135 in downtown Framingham.
“Traffic is the #1 issue that the City faces throughout Framingham and needs to be addressed,” wrote Councilor Long, who advocated for the apartment moratorium.
And those apartments have had an impact on the Framingham Public Schools, which is bursting with more than 9,000 students.
District 4 School Committee member Adam Freudberg said last summer, there were 175 students in apartments in the City, and students projected for the 1,400 permitted apartments could be as high as 210.
At $19,544 per student cost that is $4.42 million now and a project $4.1 million addition to the district for a total impact of more than $7.5 million, said Freudberg.
The moratorium was to have given the Spicer administration time to study the impact of apartment on traffic, economic development, growth issue, and the Framingham Public Schools.
But the Mayor was against the moratorium from the start.
“A limit to the production of multifamily housing also harms vulnerable populations such as low-to-moderate-income families and individuals, older adults, and those with disabilities. The data has shown that black and brown residents are most affected by housing injustice, as well as the public health crises of the pandemic and racial injustice. If we want the City to grow economically with the opening of new businesses, we need more people to call Framingham home. We need people to drive Framingham’s economic engine,” wrote the Mayor in the press release statement.
The City’s EDIC was against the moratorium.
And the 5-member Planning Board voted 4-1 against the moratorium.
What did the moratorium accomplish?
On Tuesday, September 21, 2021, the moratorium ended in the City of Framingham, quietly.
The studies have yet to be presented to the Council or the public.
There are no more answers on the the key issues than there were a year ago.
So what did the 9-month, extended to 1-year, moratorium on apartments accomplish?
SOURCE reached out to Councilor Long on September 15 and again on September 16, with no response as of the publishing of this report.
District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon, who chairs the City Council’s economic development subcommittee said “the end of the temporary apartment moratorium marks the end of another missed opportunity for Framingham. Throughout our community, residents loudly expressed concerns about the sudden influx of apartments.”
“The temporary apartment moratorium gave the administration time to study the market demand and the true impact of these developments, so we can properly plan for future housing needs. However, it seems very little of this important work was completed. Long before the moratorium was passed, the Council asked the Mayor for collaboration on this critical subject. As is the pattern, we were met with silence. Another missed opportunity for Framingham,” said Councilor Cannon.
The lone vote on the City Council against the moratorium was City Council Chair George P. King Jr.
“I was not in favor of the moratorium approach, but I appreciate the goal of controlling the development. The problem with a moratorium is it sends a bad message, especially when there was no real evidence of any significant applications pending,” said King to SOURCE.
“In retrospect, I do not think we met the goals we set for it and I am not surprised as they were ambitious, but luckily given the relatively minimal demand I do think it was as detrimental as I feared,” said King, who was elected as an at-large City Councilor in 2017, and again in 2019.
“Since we are currently reviewing the CBD zoning laws, the moratorium is essentially still in effect for a bit longer, but I think this is a more productive approach and I am confident we will see good results,” said City Council Chair King. “Hopefully we can go forward in an orderly and productive fashion that benefits Framingham.”
“The moratorium should continue until the process is fixed, as that was the purpose of the initial pause,” said District 4 School Committee member Freudberg. “More housing options for seniors, generation X, and all ages in between is necessary and important for Framingham’s future quality of life and economic future. However, for the last nine months a study and strategic plan was supposed to be completed by the Mayor’s Administration to take advantage of the time offered by the moratorium. No study has been done.”
“Opportunities to coordinate and be strategic were missed over many years, including this year. For example, one proposal to build new housing units made it to the final stages of the city planning process without any discussion with the school district. FPS leadership were blindsided. New apartments at this site would have added 837% more units in one school’s home district, the school with the longest waiting list. Thank goodness the developer backed out due to immense neighborhood advocacy,” said School Committee Chair Freudberg.
“The school department has requested a better process and even proposed a simple written MOU (Memorandum of understanding) that was rejected,” said Freudberg., “Last time the school department learned of new proposed units from media. Then then proactively offered feedback.”
“The system learning from media instead of from the Mayor’s Administration is backwards. This is not how government works well together. FPS has not been invited to consistently participate in positive process changes to date,” said School Committee Chair Freudberg. “Until that happens, I am not comfortable with future developments being brought forward until common sense planning around the impacts on school enrollment, school choice, public safety, and busing happen first. Let’s together fix the process, and ensure municipal departments coordinate, industry is supported as the entire city plans together, and simply adding the school district to have a seat at the table by making it a written requirement and following that requirement solves many problems.”
District 8 City Councilor Stefanini when asked what the moratorium accomplished told the digital news outlet “the one-year moratorium allowed all of us to study the impacts and to fine tune the zoning to protect surrounding neighborhoods and require additional amenities from developers. It also enabled the existing units to stabilize, increasing the likelihood of their long term success. That said, this is an area we need to continue to carefully monitor.”
District 9 City Councilor Tracey Bryant, who has a new high-rise apartment development in her district, voted in favor of the moratorium. SOURCE reached out to her for comment twice last week, with no response.
MetroWest Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Jim Giammarinaro discussed with SOURCE what the end of the moratorium means to businesses in MetroWest.
“Our Chamber members (particularly our large businesses) have identified affordable housing for their employees as one of their biggest issues related to business growth in MetroWest. Businesses need to attract and then retain employees who are at the early stages of their careers. Having apartments in MetroWest which are affordable would be a major benefit in both attracting and keeping new employees. One of our largest employers has identified $1,800 per month as the “sweet spot” to be able to attract employees who are just starting out in their careers,” said the Chamber President.
“Now that the moratorium is over, as we move forward with plans to build new apartment complexes we should keep this amount in mind. We must also remember that if large businesses are not able to attract new employees to work in MetroWest, they have the ability to grow their businesses anywhere in the world,” said Chamber CEO Giammarinaro.