Friday, January 13, 2006
Housing Authority considers new sites for affordable housing
The Carlisle Housing Authority (CHA) is preparing to shift into high gear now that the town has a state-approved plan to increase affordable housing stock and is working to build affordable housing on the Benfield Land. While the CHA expects to spend most of its time over the next year focusing on the Benfield development, at Tuesday's meeting they explored several ideas for future affordable housing projects.
Habitat protection is underway for the rare blue-spotted salamander found on the Benfield Land last fall. Brian Butler of Oxbow Associates, an environmental consulting firm in Acton, has been hired by the town to review Carlisle's preliminary plans for an affordable housing development on the parcel and to suggest any adjustments needed to protect the amphibian's habitat. Butler's finished report is expected by the end of the month. Once habitat protection has been incorporated in the development plan, the CHA will meet with the state Natural Heritage Program (NHP) for more input. NHP approval of the final development plans will also be needed.
Carlisle's Affordable Housing Plan proposes a list of sites where the town might construct housing, and Lehotsky said, "It makes sense to start working on Greenough next." The CHA brainstormed ideas, such as converting the slate-roofed barn into condominiums, or perhaps use Minuteman Tech students to help renovate the former caretaker's cottage. Problems that would need to be overcome include lead paint abatement in the cottage, and the creation of public access to that site. The current driveway crosses private property. The drive also traverses the top of the Greenough Pond dam, which is in need of repair. Local and state approvals would also be required to convert that portion of the Greenough Conservation Land to use as a housing development. Lehotsky said, "Over the next year we'll start moving forward on some of these things."
Accessory apartments can be an inexpensive way for the town to increase its stock of affordable housing. The town needs approximately 150 additional units of affordable housing (see sidebar.) Lehotsky pointed out it might cost the town $200,000 apiece to build an affordable unit, but it would only cost a fraction of that to convert an existing home to have an affordable accessory apartment. Therefore, it could be economical for the town to offer renovation rebates or rent subsidies. A separate task force is drafting a bylaw on affordable accessory apartments for Annual Town Meeting in the spring. Susan Stamps is the task force member who represents the CHA.
Tax taking properties
The town owns a collection of small undeveloped parcels, most of which were acquired when owners stopped paying taxes for many years. Looking at the map, the CHA identified about a half-dozen properties that might be buildable. Lehotsky said these might be good locations for affordable housing, including housing constructed by Habitat for Humanity, or as sites to move houses otherwise scheduled to be torn down. Lehotsky thought it would be profitable for private developers to move houses they otherwise planned to demolish, because they would receive tax deductions for donating the house to the town.
Part-time aide sought
The CHA considered if their growing workload could best be managed by hiring a part-time administrative aide. Lehotsky said they would like to hire someone with experience in the housing field. He thought it would be "several years" before they would need a full-time paid staff, and therefore liked the idea of sharing a part-time employee either with other towns or with other departments within Carlisle's town government. The CHA will discuss details of a Warrant Article for this when they meet with the Finance Committee on Wednesday, January 18.
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