Friday, April 14, 2006
Will $90,000 spur accessory apartment creation?
At the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) meeting on April 6, Doug Stevenson presented a proposal for encouraging affordable accessory apartments in Carlisle. It is hoped accessory apartments can be part of the Affordable Housing Plan developed to achieve a moratorium on Chapter 40B developments in Carlisle. Under Chapter 40B, a developer can bypass town zoning laws in order to develop affordable housing in towns with an insufficient supply. Carlisle needs to add at least 12 affordable units per year to maintain the moratorium.
There are three parts to the accessory apartments proposal: a transfer from CPC funds of $90,000 to offer financial incentives of $15,000 per unit, zoning bylaw changes to be presented in the Warrant for Town Meeting, and a staff member to provide assistance to homeowners looking to take part in the plan. It is hoped that Town Meeting will approve $50,000 to provide this staff member; if not, members of the Planning Board will step in.
Although the plan has been forwarded to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), no feedback has been received as to whether accessory apartments approved under the plan will qualify toward Carlisle's affordability quota. No other town has yet had their plan approved, and "Lincoln's been waiting a year," according to CPC Chair Caren Ponty. Stevenson wondered if an applicant would have to be found to provide a test case against which the DHCD would have to rule.
$90,000 transfer, bylaw changes proposed
The $90,000 assumes six apartment owners will be included the first year. The $15,000 incentive is earned if the property is kept affordable for 15 years. It can be taken in a lump sum loan which is "forgiven" at a rate of $1,000 per year, or, for those not wanting a lien on their property, $1,000 can be paid out at the end of each year. The units are deed restricted, and if affordability is terminated before year 15, the unearned incentive must be returned. Draft guidelines lay out eligibility, rules and restrictions.
To broaden the possible market, proposed changes to the zoning bylaw will allow accessory apartments in detached structures, in non-residential buildings and on any legal lot, whereas previously only two-acre lots were allowed. Currently, accessory apartments must be in the same building as a primary dwelling. Bylaw changes will also allow up to 50% of the floor space to be used, versus 35% today. The maximum size of 1200 square feet has been retained.
Making it easy
According to Stevenson, "Some people feel it's the goal of the town's boards and commissions to prevent them from doing things. We want to make this as welcoming as possible." He said current holders of special permits for accessory apartments, of which there are 12, were asked to review the plan and concluded "the process is reasonable." Half said they would consider applying.
Steve Pearlman wondered if the process could be structured so a homeowner upfront "has some indication they will qualify." Ponty hoped that the deed restriction could continue when the property is sold. As it is, the new owner must reapply.
Said Ponty, "Make it as easy as possible." Stevenson noted there had been some feeling by committee members that adding accessory apartments should be "by right without a special permit" but that "our opinion didn't prevail."
Who can live there?
Another question arose as to who can live in an affordable accessory apartment. Would a nanny or mother-in-law qualify? The regulation requires posting of an opening, a need to inform applicants on the Carlisle Housing Authority waiting list, and a waiting period during which income-eligible people can apply. It then specifies "Owner may select the tenant from the pool of eligible applicants." Would this include a nanny or relative? Without feedback from the DHCD it was difficult to know. Ponty noted she had spoken with someone with an empty apartment who was not interested in the program due to concerns about control of tenants.
Is $15,000 enough incentive?
Larry Sorli noted that "$15,000 isn't a lot if you have to do work" to make the apartment rentable. "There are very specific code issues that cost a lot of money." He questioned why the amount wasn't $30,000 or even more. As it is, "It will never pay back" the cost of renovation. Pearlman also wondered if money could be made available up front rather than after renovations are completed. Stevenson made it clear the immediate target of the incentive is those who already have special permits or undocumented accessory apartments, and that further tweaking of the program could be done if the incentives proved inadequate.
"We have to give it a try," said Tim Hult. Praising the accessory apartment committee for their work, the CPC voted to recommend $90,000 be transferred from the Community Housing Reserve Fund to the Housing Trust or Housing Authority. But what happens to the $90,000 if the DHCD doesn't approve the plan? Hult noted the need to invigorate the Housing Authority and said, "I personally don't have any trouble with it going to the Housing Trust." However, the CPC voted to return the money to the CPC if the plan is not approved within a year.
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