The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 9, 2005


Accessory apartments: another source of affordable housing?

What will it take to entice Carlisle residents to make existing accessory apartments "affordable" or to construct new apartments to help the town meet its state-mandated goal of 10% affordable housing? To answer that question and develop relevant regulations, Carlisle has formed a new task force. Led by Doug Stevenson, chair of the Board of Selectmen, the group met last week with consultant Toby Kramer. Kramer is paid from CPA funds authorized by Town Meeting last May. Task force members include David Freedman and Louise Hara from the Planning Board, Planning Director George Mansfield, Housing Authority representative Susan Stamps, and Deb Belanger, who supported this initiative last spring. The task force expects to have a bylaw proposal ready for next spring's Annual Town Meeting.

Accessory apartments

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:

  • The apartments are accessory to a primary residence.The owner must occupy either the principal residence or the apartment.
  • The apartment must be a "separate housekeeping unit" with a lockable door.
  • The living area may not exceed 1,200 square feet.
  • The apartment is less than 35% of the total combined living area.
  • No more than 75 special permits may be outstanding at any time.
  • The apartment must be on a lot of at least two acres.
  • Apartment must not be detrimental to the neighborhood.
  • No more than two bedrooms allowed on lots less than three acres.
  • There is no other apartment on the same lot.
  • The external appearance of the house is that of a single-family home.
  • An approval letter from the Board of Health is required.
  • If "substantial" use of the apartment is not made within one year, the permit shall lapse.
  • The Planning Board will issue a special permit authorizing an accessory apartment, which terminates upon the sale of the property, unless the current tenants remain.
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 ( ), and the web site for Massachusetts Department of Community Housing and Development (

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito