Friday, April 30, 2010
Housing Trust tries to finalize accessory apartment program
On paper, the town bylaw approved in 2006 allowing for Affordable Accessory Apartments (referred to as “AAAs” by some town officials) sounds like a win-win situation. The town counts AAAs towards 40B low-income housing fulfillment, and homeowners can receive up to $15K in assistance to develop and maintain an AAA under a program funded by the Community Preservation Act. Given the costs of the town in creating affordable housing on its own – for example, the Benfield Land project – Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky considers the bylaw a bargain. Although one or two residents have expressed interest, the program details have yet to be completely ironed out.
The Affordable Housing Trust, chaired by John Williams, also a Selectman, met last week to discuss some of the unresolved issues. Unfortunately, there are many questions to which the Carlisle Planning Board feels it must have clear answers before it awards a special permit. For example, does the AAA qualification become attached to a property? Lehotsky felt it did not, but that a special permit is attached to the property owner. George Mansfield, Planning Board Administrator, concurred and cited how a new owner of a home with a previous accessory apartment must apply for a new permit.
Deed restriction to be revocable
Once grant monies supporting establishment of affordable housing are involved, might the situation change? According to Carlisle’s Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett, the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has an interest in seeing the affordable housing designation remain attached to a deed. However, DHCD acknowledges that the deed restriction may deter program participants and has decided to allow local governments to release restrictions. Planning Board Chair David Freedman noted that Carlisle homeowners would probably not participate in the program if such a designation became attached to their property deeds. The housing trust members decided to ask Town Counsel to create a deed restriction discharge document to protect a town resident who decides to sell an AAA property.
One possible deterrent to participation was identified by Acton Street resident David Ziehler, who noted that an existing tenant may qualify for the program, but might not be on the list of three approved candidates given to a homeowner. He wondered if he could refuse to participate in the program if that happened. Barnett cautioned that a homeowner had to choose from a pre-qualified renters list. AAA renters must apply and have their assets verified. The list will be maintained by the town. Trust member Greg Peterson, a real estate lawyer, suggested that a homeowner might face possible legal action from rejected applicants. Doug Stevenson, trust member and Selectman, said, “We are never getting over this hurdle. The tenant is the landlord’s risk.”
At its May 3 meeting, the Planning Board hopes to review revisions to the AAA deed restriction language suggested by the Housing Authority, time permitting. The Housing Trust will subsequently meet on May 12. Town Counsel must review the final wording, which must also be approved by DHCD. Two years after bylaw enactment, AAA implementation remains only a promising possibility. ∆
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