Friday, October 29, 2010
Housing Trust moves ahead on plan for affordable accessory apartments
Attorney Kathleen O’Donnell will provide legal consulting services to the town of Carlisle to assist with the implementation of an affordable accessory apartment (AAA) program … unless Massachusetts voters decide to repeal the 40B statute on November 2. The Carlisle Affordable Housing Trust on October 26 unanimously approved a contract with O’Donnell for work beginning November 3, with an amount not to exceed $5,000.
The housing trust consists of the five town Selectmen, a representative appointed by the Housing Authority (member James Bohn) and one by the Planning Board (former Planning Board member Greg Peterson). As its first order of business, Chair John Williams resigned as the chair of the Housing Trust and Peterson was unanimously approved as his replacement.
Carlisle Housing Coordinator Elizabeth DeMille Barnett noted that O’Donnell had worked with the town before on the town’s affordable accessory apartment program adopted by the town in 2006. The program includes a $15,000 incentive to property owners interested in establishing an affordable accessory apartment. Such units would count toward the town’s inventory of affordable housing units. Under state law Chapter 40B, each town must include at least 10% affordable housing.
Sticking points in the implementation of the AAA program have included drafting property restrictions amenable to the state Department of Community Housing Development and ironing out the specifics of the incentive program.
O’Donnell concurred that issues with affordable accessory units are difficult. Property owners are interested in receiving incentive funding. However, they may not want to face someday selling their properties with the restriction that the affordable apartment remain affordable. She said that she understand that Carlisle was interested in “looking for some kind of escape hatch for the property owner” and needed help on how to approach that with the state.
Selectman Doug Stevenson wondered whether the housing trust should wait until next Tuesday to see if 40B is repealed, before spending more money on the AAA initiative. He also suggested that the board might still wish to continue with the AAA program using community preservation funding regardless of the 40B decision. Peterson said that there would have to be further discussion in the town if 40B was repealed, but supported the idea of continuing the program.
Bohn said that the trust needed to understand the town’s wishes if there was a material change in the law and added that he “would be reluctant to spend resources” in the interim.
Williams said that he thought the trust should assume that 40B is not revoked for the purposes of the evening’s discussion and Peterson concurred.
Bohn responded that he was fine with authorizing the expenditure to hire the consultant, but that he did not want to see any money spent until after the results of the referendum are known.
After Peterson opened comments to the public, Planning Board Chair David Freedman noted an unresolved internal issue of figuring out how to distribute the $15K incentive to AAA applicants. Barnett noted after the meeting that the town officials had discussed making the $15K a one-time grant rather than parsing out the money slowly such as $1K annually over the course of 15 years. In the latter case, a lien placed on the property would protect the town’s interest should the title change before the time had elapsed. Peterson agreed that the issue needed resolution and involvement of Town Finance Director Larry Barton.
Freedman continued that given the recent state certification that the proposed Benfield apartments would qualify as affordable housing, he felt that the two-year window the town had might enable it to wait for the election results before spending money to pursue a still-undefined AAA initiative.
Further delay questioned
Acton Street resident David Ziehler, with an accessory apartment in place, and having spent the last several years attending a multitude of town meetings to look into ways to have it qualify as affordable, questioned any further delay by the Housing Trust in the face of yet another election. He recalled the questions being the same when Governor Deval Patrick was elected. “I know things change,” he said, “but at some point, do it, or just shoot it in the head and let it go away. I look forward to the day when the people just make the decision and do it.”
Ziehler said that the issue sounded like it would be delayed again until another spring town meeting. He reiterated that with the $15K incentive that the town had already approved it was a win-win situation for the homeowner and for the town. He added that people were interested in the program now and discouraged the town from postponing to an uncertain future when no one might be interested.
Reaching a consensus
The housing trust got down to the specifics. Williams verified with O’Donnell that her involvement would ensure obtaining a deed restriction that was valid with the state and with the town. Selectman Peter Scavongelli also wanted assurance that no monies were spent investigating AAA deed restrictions until after the election, since any repeal of 40B would require revisiting the bylaw at town meeting.
The next meeting of the trust is scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, at 7pm. ∆
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