Friday, June 20, 2003
State eases affordable housing regulations · somewhat
Communities pressed by the threat of comprehensive plan development under the state's Chapter 40B regulations heard a few words of enthusiasm and hope last week at the "Creative Solutions to Housing Workshop #2" in Maynard, sponsored by the Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC). According to Judy Alland, chief regional planner for Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), "If a community permits and builds affordable housing in accordance with its certified plan, it may never be required to grant another comprehensive permit." Chapter 40B, dubbed the "anti-snob zoning law," states that if a community does not have 10% of its housing stock as affordable housing, a developer may build under a comprehensive permit which is not subject to zoning regulations.
The Certified Plan is the key
The "certified plan" arrived last December as a component of the governor's new housing regulations and is the gateway to receiving the benefits of those regulations. The chief elected official in each town must submit a certified plan to state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which describes the community's plan to build affordable units that have a mix of housing that serves families, individuals, elderly and persons with special needs, including well-defined use restrictions (i.e, criteria for affordability). In addition, the developer must be shown to be financially responsible. Under the new regulations the developer and community develop the plan together and the developer takes it to the Zoning Board of Appeals (BOA) if a comprehensive permit is being sought. Also, if the plan has been accepted, the trigger for allowing a comprehensive plan is no longer whether the town has met 10% affordable housing criterion, but whether one half of 1% of affordable housing has been added in the past year. Even so, Catherine Cordes, Bedford Selectman and chair of that town's Community Preservation Committee, pointed out that for her town one half of 1% means adding 22 affordable units a year, which is not a realistic possibility. The state has recieved two certified plans so far.
Most communities have already generated much of the paperwork required for a certified plan, in the process of developing the master plan required for funds under Executive Order 418 and for the Community Preservation Act (CPA). They have identified sites for comprehensive permit development, municipal parcels, as well as the characteristics, constraints and limitations associated with development.
When the plan is submitted and approved, and the units specified are produced, certification occurs in 30 days. The day of certification, according to one participant, "is the day you can say no to a comprehensive permit (CP) application. The new procedure thus makes it easier for town to avoid CPs by lowering the standard that tiggers them.
The governor's task force on housing had a May 30 deadline to complete its final report and put the report online by June 12. Information about new requirements and recommedations may be obtained from the the Department of Housing and Community Development at 1-617-727-7001 or online a www.mass.gov\hcd. A public hearing on the task force report is scheduled for June 24 in the Gardner auditorium, with details available at the web site.
New funds available
Another ray of sunshine in the otherwise bleak housing scene is provided by the New England Fund. This is a federal home loan administered through a community bank. Bedford's Cordes called it "an unbelievable resource" for communities seeking to develop housing. There is currently $2 billion in the pipeline for the New England Fund (NEF). While the fund is categorized as a non-governmental entity, developers become eligible through meeting regulations set by governing agencies. The process is that the developer applies to the town and a principal administrator is selected. The project goes to Mass Housing for eligibility determination. If Mass Housing okays it, the developer goes to a NEF bank. When the bank okays the application, the developer goes to the local Board of Appeals and works through the regular process of revisions, which are then submitted to Mass Housing for final approval. To be eligible for funding, 20% of the project must be for home ownership, 10% for rentals and 5% for affordable housing.
Bedford makes progress
Bedford has been energetic in using CPA funds to develop affordable housing, though Cordes states clearly that CPA is "not the entire answer to the housing issue." She adds that funds to create housing are only a small part of the picture, which also includes land acquisition and restoration. Bedford got a jump start on housing by using CPA funds to hire a consultant who would be responsible for housing issues. What emerged is a condo buy-down program, with deed restrictions on the affordable units that keep the unit as affordable. The town, through fund raising and church support, bought a duplex which will be deed restricted as affordable. It has also converted one historic house into two affordable units, and it has developed Patriot Place, ten units on town-owned land.
Eugene Clerkin, President of Bedford Housing Trust and Chair of Bedford Housing Partnership, said Bedford will continue working with what-ever is available to foster development. For example, CPA funds were used for pre-development work (archaeological, wetland, etc.), on one piece of land. He says, "You take developers and mold the developers and have them do town development." If town-owned land is involved, the town has a lot more control and can essentially say to the developer, "This is what you are building".
Area towns are active
The high cost of land and strained town budgets have made it difficult for towns to create affordable housing. However, like Lexington and Bedford, other towns have been slowly adding to their affordable stock through conversion of existing housing. Bolton has smaller units throughout the community and a bylaw stipulating that one-eighth of a development has to be affordable or the developer has to make a cash contribution to the town. Lincoln has been purchasing units as they come on the market. The Lincoln Foundation was created to erect the first set of affordable units in that town, and the town has resale restrictions that place a transfer fee on every sale. Several towns have prevented tear-downs by putting deed restrictions on existing housing.
Carlisle's planning administrator and two members of the Planning Board attended the housing symposium.
© 2003 The