Peabody is now listed among 26 "Gateway Cities" in Massachusetts after a review by state officials of recent local data found mid-range household incomes fell below the state average along with the number of adults who hold a four-year college degree.
While on the one hand, that's discouraging news for the Tanner City, on the other hand, it does mean Peabody has greater access to state aid for housing and economic development projects.
“Our Gateway Cities possess tremendous potential and opportunities and the Patrick-Murray Administration’s emphasis on these communities is designed to help unlock that potential,” said Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki in a statement.
“By continuing to invest in innovation, infrastructure and education in these communities we are creating new opportunities for growth in the future,” he said.
The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development says Peabody median household incomes have fallen below the state average of $65,981 down to $65,471.
A press release Monday did not cite a range on college degrees, but according to the Boston Globe, the state average is 38.7 percent. Only 30 percent of Peabody adults have a bachelor's degree or higher education.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt told the Globe he was "surprised" at the new status for Peabody and only just received a phone call that morning notifying him of the news. As such, he said, he was unsure of the program's benefits to Peabody, but would be meeting with state officials this week to learn more.
So what does Peabody get out of this new status? According to Bialecki's office, Gateway Cities have access to a targeted parks program that develops and restores parks in urban neighborhoods, housing development incentives aimed at increasing market-rate housing stock and supporting economic development, and planning grants that target revitalization.
Last month, state officials also announced $3.4 million in grants targeted at English language instruction and early career education for students. In the current school year, Gateway Cities have been pledged $3.9 billion in general education aid.
That's in addition to $1 billion in active construction contracts through MassDOT, millions more in public safety grants, Gateway City Park grants and $1.14 billion in financing from MassDevelopment, according to Bialecki's office.
Gateway Cities also get preference on project funding under statewide programs, such as MassWorks' infrastructure program or brownfields program, as long as those projects create economic development and housing opportunities.
Peabody has in fact received similar funding already for local projects -- $1.5 million from MassWorks for Main Street and the majority of the $1.5 million it cost to create a new city park at 45 Walnut St. came from brownfields redevelopment funding, a parklands program and MassDevelopment.
Bialecki's office annually reviews the last five years' worth of data for cities to determine eligibility to the Gateway Cities program and this is the first year additions have been made since the program launched in 2010.
A spokesman from Bialecki's office told the Globe Peabody was added to the program when its median household income dropped below the state average.
The third eligibility factor is a population between 35,000 and 250,000 -- Peabody is 51,653, according to 2011 figures from the U.S. Censu Bureau. Attleboro was also included in the program this year.
The other 24 Gateway Cities are:
Barnstable, Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Salem, Springfield, Taunton, Westfield and Worcester.