Friday, November 14, 2008
A first look at the three Benfield housing proposals
“Any one of the respondents could do the job,” said consultant Karen Sunnarborg at the November 6 Housing Authority meeting, as she, consultant Michael Jacobs, and administrative coordinator Elizabeth Barnett are assisting the Authority in the evaluation of three proposals to develop and operate affordable housing on the Benfield Land. Jacobs agreed, “They’re all competent. They all have a good track record.” The three firms include Common Ground Development Corporation of Lowell; JNJUHL & Associates, LLC. of Holliston; and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) of East Boston. The firms will be interviewed at public meetings on November 17 and 20, and Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky expects a developer will be chosen by the first week in December.
The 26 units of affordable senior rental housing are being built by the town to help meet the state requirement that at least 10% of the housing stock in a town be affordable to families with low and moderate incomes. The town purchased the 45-acre property on South Street in 2004. The housing is to be sited on a limited area near the road, while most of the land is reserved for conservation and a possible future athletic field.
The three development proposals differ in details of how the project would be funded, which in turn will influence the mix of one and two-bedroom units and the tenant affordability restrictions. All envision a single connected housing structure of two or three stories. Two buildings are of a standard design, while one firm is proposing a structure with a varying roofline modeled after an old farmhouse with attached barn. The conceptual sketches showed differing building facades, driveway and parking layouts. Two of the units will be handicapped accessible, to comply with a 5% Americans with Disabilities Act requirement.
Federal and state grants
Developers mentioned applying for federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 202 program funding that supports construction and operation of affordable senior rental housing. Two firms indicated interest in applying for state or other funding. Different grants stipulate different income and asset requirements for the future tenants.
Common Ground proposal
According to their proposal, the Common Ground Development Corporation (CGDC) is a non-profit subsidiary of Community Teamwork, Inc. (CTI) an agency that has administered housing, educational and childcare programs in the Lowell area for over 40 years. Common Ground’s executive vice president/CEO Steven Joncas would serve as the project manager and developer. CTI would serve as the project “sponsor” for the HUD application, and would help administer programs and transportation for the residents.
Joncas served as chief of staff for former Representative Marty Meehan during the 90s, and also worked for five years at the Massachusetts Development Financing Agency. Common Ground has built the Residences at Stony Brook, a 15-unit affordable development in Westford. According to their proposal, CTI has over 20 years experience with managing HUD 202-housing.
The Carlisle project would rely on HUD 202 funding and all the housing would be one-bedroom, 600-square-foot units. The wood-frame three-story building would include a lobby and a common room with kitchen facilities on the first floor, laundry and trash facilities on the second floor, and two offices for management staff on the third floor. About 32 parking spaces were provided around the building.
Jon Juhl, president of JNJUHL and Associates, LLC, is the second developer under consideration by the Housing Authority. Juhl founded the company in 2005 and, according to his proposal, he has over 30 years of experience. As of last month, he had six other affordable housing projects underway. JNJUHL’s proposal would include a mixture of unit sizes and income requirements. There would be 20 units of rental housing restricted to seniors with incomes at or below 60% of the area Median Income (AMI), and six units for seniors with incomes up to 100% of the AMI. Seven of the units would be 700-square-foot one-bedroom apartments and the remaining 19 units would have two bedrooms and 850 square feet of space. In the sketch, the parking would be located behind and to the side of the three-story building. The first floor would include a lobby and meeting room, while the second and third floors would include reading areas by the elevator.
According to their proposal, the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) is a 20-year-old corporation that would work on the Benfield project with the East Boston Community Development Corporation and its property management arm, Metro Management.
NOAH’s proposal for the Benfield housing would also provide a mixture of apartments. Eight units would have two bedrooms, while 18 units would have one bedroom. Five apartments would be restricted to seniors with incomes at or below 50% of the AMI, another 13 apartments would be for those with incomes at or below 60% of the AMI, while the remaining eight units would be for seniors with incomes up to 100% AMI. The proposed building façade resembles a house and attached barn, with the structure varying between two and three stories high. The building would be sited at an angle to the road, with parking along a U-shaped drive running behind the building. According to the proposal, the structure would include a covered patio, a high-ceilinged living room on the first floor, a game room on the second floor and a greenhouse on the third floor.
Impressions and questions
The group shared initial impressions of the three proposals, each of which had strengths. The NOAH proposal with its house and barn appearance interested Housing Authority member Steve Perlman, who felt it would fit into the neighborhood. Sunnarborg agreed, saying it had a “strong design concept for both the building and site layout.”
All three applicants would incorporate Energy-star appliances and plant low-maintenance shrubs. However, use of “green” building techniques was not considered a strong point of any of the proposals. Construction costs are constrained by the affordable housing grants, making more expensive “green” building solutions difficult. Lehotsky later said the developers are all willing to apply for green building grants. He said that having the same firm build and manage the housing development would hopefully encourage long-term investment in energy-efficient building materials. The Housing Authority mentioned that adding solar-powered hot water might be feasible.
Lehotsky questioned the septic system locations and wondered what would happen if for some reason they did not work out. Another question raised was whether all the applicants were aware that there is currently no natural gas line in that part of town.
Unlike most town building projects, Carlisle will lease the land, approximately four acres, to the developer who will own and maintain the building until the lease expires in 99 years. Unexpected costs are to be born by the developer, theoretically. However, it was mentioned that JNJUHL and NOAH had expressed interest in perhaps applying for additional Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding down the road. CPA funds were used to buy the land and another $425,000 has been set aside to subsidize infrastructure construction. Sunnarborg noted the firms are both for-profit corporations, and have inquired about property tax relief once the building is completed.
Housing Authority member Susan Stamps asked, “How set in stone are these proposals?” Sunnarborg replied, “All these guys work well with the communities.” She felt that within reason, they would be willing to fine tune their proposals as long as the project cost was not significantly affected.
In the coming days the Housing Authority consultants, particularly Jacobs, will scrutinize the proposals to verify the financial capabilities of the applicants. A performance bond will be required, so that, should the developer go out of business, the town could complete the project. Sunnarborg and Barnett, along with Housing Authority members Stamps and James Bohn, are checking references for the three developers. Lehotsky said, “The Housing Authority is really pleased to have three solid bids.”
After a developer is chosen, a ground lease will be negotiated and the permitting process begun. It is expected that a “friendly” comprehensive permit will be sought from the Zoning Board of Appeals, because the senior housing will exceed the local restrictions on residential housing density. Conservation Commission approval will also be needed for work within 100 feet of wetlands. All three firms are planning to apply for state and/or federal grants for the housing construction and operation.
Barnett said that there are 34 people on an unofficial “pre-waiting list.” However, no matter which proposal is chosen, it will be a few years before residents can move in. Preliminary schedules in the proposals estimated the building might be finished in 2011 or 2012, assuming grant funding is readily available. ∆
© 2008 The