Friday, December 9, 2005
Accessory apartments: another source of affordable housing?
Carlisle's zoning bylaw 5.6 defines an accessory apartment as "a distinct portion of a single-family dwelling, having its own kitchen and bathroom facilities, and subordinate in size to the principal part of said dwelling." A room rented to a college student would not qualify.
The bylaw was designed "to increase the availability of moderately priced housing for town employees, the young, the elderly, people of low and moderate income, and dependent relatives of town residents." Written in 1989, the current bylaw does not include state affordability requirements.
Our regulations state:
Counting affordable units
The Carlisle Affordable Housing Plan, recently approved by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), includes a target of eight affordable accessory apartments in the next year. But coming up with these apartments may be difficult. At the moment, there are only about 12 registered accessory apartments in town — and it is assumed that most are rented at market rates. The consultant has been asked to research the difference between market rates and the reduced rates required for affordable housing.
Existing apartments are the best bets for affordable housing, according to Stevenson and Kramer, at least in part because the construction of new apartments would entail significant time and investment.
Phil Hailer, Communications Director for the DHCD, said that owners will be able to choose the residents of affordable apartments but the tenants must meet eligibility requirements set by the state.
A deed restriction that locks in the low rent may be required for state approval of affordable accessory apartments. However, the state has given towns flexibility by not requiring a specific number of years.
What other towns are doing
To understand what other towns have done, the Mosquito talked with several people in Lincoln, which is actively working on state approval but currently has no accessory apartments with affordable housing status. According to Mark Whitehead, Planning Director, and BJ Scheff of the Planning Board, Lincoln submitted its accessory apartment plans to the DHCD last February but has yet to get a response. In fact, several home owners are "standing in line" and ready to offer their apartments to eligible residents.
In Lincoln, town officials are able to review and certify eligibility, according to B. J. Scheff of the Planning Board.
Freedman said that Barnstable has a "successful"set of regulations in place for affordable accessory apartments. The town of Dennis also has them. He particularly thought the Lincoln bylaw "sounded like a good one" and is being studied by the task force. Lincoln requires a 15-year deed restriction. Then, after proof that the unit has been rented at a low rate, owners will receive a $1,000 a year "honorarium."
Various towns have experimented with different financial incentives: Maynard offers $7,000 per year for remodeling; and Barnstable granted an amnesty to owners of 'illegal' accessory apartments if they offered the apartments at below-market rates to eligible low- or moderate-income individuals.
Freedman noted that while the deed restrictions are a benefit to the town, there needs to be an incentive to the owners as well. "We need to look at it from the carrot side of it, and forget about the stick."
For those interested in learning more about accessory apartments, see the web site for the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, which profiles the affordable housing experience of several towns (www.mhp.net ), and the web site for Massachusetts Department of Community Housing and Development (www.mass.gov/dhcd).
© 2005 The