Creating affordable housing is one of the goals of the Community Preservation Act, but the reality of moving affordable housing projects forward is both expensive and time consuming, advocates told the Community Preservation Committee at their recent meeting.
Diane Bartlett, chair of the Local Housing Partnership, and Shawn Dahlen, the selectmen’s representative to the Local Housing Partner and Affordable Housing Trust, told the CPC that they must re-allocate money dedicated to other affordable housing purposes in order to bridge a funding gap for two projects and develop eight affordable units.
The committees are working to create six units of affordable housing on a site on town owned land at Camp Wing off Temple Street. Of these, three would be low income and three would be moderate income.
They are also trying to move ahead a project to build two affordable units at the site of the historic Grange Hall building and demolished fire house on Franklin Street.
In 2008, Town Meeting voters approved $70,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to purchase the historic Grange Hall in order to combine it with an adjacent town-owned abandoned fire house to make two new affordable homes with a shared septic system. The price of the Grange Hall was $50,000. The firehouse was later demolished because it was condemned by the town.
In 2010, the annual town meeting allocated another $150,000 for the Grange Hall.
Dahlen said a funding gap exists between what it will cost to build an affordable unit and the market value the builder can sell it for. This gap totals $876,672. The Camp Wing funding gap is $394,332 and the Grange funding gap is $382,340. The total figure also includes a $100,000 contingency.
Dahlen said that the funding gap can be addressed by using past and current CPA funding allocated for affordable housing. He said they have $135,000 in inclusionary housing funds now and they would need $320,000 from the CPA housing account. There is still $90,000 from the money from 2010 annual town meeting article of $150,000.
The committee needs the CPC’s permission to use $320,000 in the CPA affordable housing account and the town’s okay to use $330,000 in the Affordable Housing Trust’s housing assistance program set aside in 2011. Dahlen said there is still enough money in the housing assistance program from a 2008 allocation to keep it viable.
The Grange project has changed through the years. Initially, it was thought that Habitat for Humanity would renovate the hall into a three bedroom home, but that organization backed out of the project.
It now appears that the historic Grange building will be torn down and rebuilt to look the same. Dahlen said to restore the building, which has sat vacant for many years, would cost an additional $100,000.
“From a taxpayer’s perspective, I can’t justify that in my own mind,” he said.
CPC member Pat Loring did not feel the CPC should help the Grange/fire house project continue because it was so expensive and only produced two units of affordable housing.
“At some point in a project, you have to look at it and say ‘this is a bad project’ and it needs to be cut loose and you take a loss,” said Loring. “We’ve struggled for years with this Grange project and the request for funding goes on and on. I’m not sure if this isn’t the time to cut this project loose.”
She was troubled that the Grange Hall was going to be demolished instead of restored.
“One of our goals on that project was historical preservation,” she said. “Our original goals are not being met.”
Dahlen felt it was still a viable project.
“We need to finish these,” he said. “We need to move these projects forward.”
CPC chairman John Bear wanted to look at the two affordable projects separately.
Dahlen said the funding gap of the Camp Wing project was proportional to that of the Grange. He said it was conceivable that the town could walk away from the Grange project and sell the land, but his committees didn’t want to do that.
“You could reduce the funding request and then we turn to the town manager and say ‘it’s your problem now,’ ” he said.
“We don’t want to do that,” said Bartlett.