The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 16, 2001


Housing authority seeks ConsCom blessing on five-year plan

Carlisle Housing Authority (CHA) members Alan Lehotsky and Steve Pearlman sought Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) backing for their five-year plan to make a respectable dent in the town's affordable housing deficit at the commission's March 1 meeting. Armed with the 20-page CHA Housing Plan 2000, they requested ConsCom support at the May 14 Spring Town Meeting and during the implementation phase that they hope will follow.

The plan's executive summary outlines the benefits the town could anticipate from actively pursuing affordable housing at this juncture, i.e.:

· Town employees, senior citizens and adult children of Carlisle families could afford to live or remain here.

· Diversity could be increased, while maintaining local preference among buyers or tenants.

· Carlisle's character could be preserved by reducing the chance that developers would use the Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Law, which gives them a right to a limited override of local zoning bylaws if their developments include 25 percent or more affordable housing units.

The comprehensive permit stick

In connection with the comprehensive permit threat, ConsCom chair Tom Brownrigg asked if the town really needed to attain the state goal of ten percent affordable units (156 additional units) in order to avoid future state approval of this type of development. Lehotsky said that a good-faith effort toward compliance, backed by a convincing plan of attack, could usually avert state intervention. He informed them that CHA has explored three possible approaches.

Three housing models

The town might try to make a few giant steps forward by going the most immediately economical route, and working with a developer to produce large (130-150 units) projects. This, the CHA felt, would be totally inconsistent with Carlisle's long-standing zoning practices, would tend to segregate the residents and would inevitably require new school construction, perhaps at a most inconvenient time. However, the subsidy cost to the town would be negligible.

At the other extreme would be the attractive, but very costly, conversion of single family homes. Since, on average, only two houses in the $225,000 to $350,000 range become available per year, this approach could take up to 70 years to complete and would require a subsidy of $250,000 or more per unit.

In view of these serious drawbacks to the first two possibilities, CHA is recommending that the town construct a series of small (five-15 units) developments, spread about town. This would offer some of the economies of scale, while integrating the residents/tenants with their neighborhoods. To quote the CHA document: "On average, two such projects would provide sufficient units to add one percent against the ten percent state objective. Thus four projects, in combination with the existing 18 units, would enable Carlisle to reach two to three percent, a point comparable to many other towns, and perhaps fend off comprehensive permits."

On the proposed schedule, it would require about 20 years to reach the state's mandated ten percent goal for affordable housing units and would probably require subsidies on the order of $145,000 per unit. The town's per unit contribution could be dropped to about $85,000 if some units were built on town-owned land.

Creative funding possibilities

Lehotsky emphasized that not all subsidy money need come from the taxpayers. For example, developers sometimes offer to give existing small houses to the town, if the structures are moved. The CHA is strongly recommending that the town consider multiple-use purchases, in which a portion of the acreage is devoted to affordable housing, while some is used to build market rate units that can be sold to help defray costs and/or may be kept as conservation land. This was one important part of the plan, which would call for active assistance from ConsCom. It is a procedure already used in Malcolm Meadows, Abbot/Hutchins and the O'Rourke property, before the federal government purchased it.

Pearlman noted that all town subsidy estimates were calculated without taking into account possible funding under the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (CPA). This state program permits a town to establish a fund earmarked for affordable housing, open space, outdoor recreation and historic preservation, financed by a town property tax surcharge of up to three percent. In return, the state offers monies matching 5-100 percent of the town's CPA revenues. (For more information on the CPA, see the March 9 issue of the Mosquito or the following website:

ConsCom backs preservation act

Commissioner John Lee, who is also a member of the municipal land committee, told Pearlman, "CPA is a wonderful tool for you. You need it. We need it." He urged that all town boards whose programs and objectives would be advanced by this infusion of state funds get together to present a coordinated approach. "We're going to have to work fast and we're going to have to work hard to convince Town Meeting to pass it [the CPA]" at the April 10 Special Town Meeting. Finally, he recommended that the town enter CPA at the three percent surcharge level in order to qualify for maximum funding from the state.

The commission did not take official action on the request that they review Housing Plan 2000 and endorse its adoption at the Spring Town Meeting, pending a detailed study of the document.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito