Eager For Action, Selectmen Name Affordable Housing Trust Board

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Housing and homelessness

The operations center of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank off West Road. The town is exploring reuse of the building and site when the bank relocates its headquarters to Barnstable in the near future.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS The push to get something done regarding affordable housing continued last week as the selectmen appointed seven members of the new affordable housing trust fund board and the affordable housing committee zeroed in on practical steps toward acquiring specific properties to meet the need.

The new trust, created by town meeting, will no longer have to wait until that body meets to act on property purchases and sales, working instead in tandem with the board of selectmen. Voters also ensured that the trust will have about $700,000 in resources at the outset.

“The way I look at it, the trust is the money,” Selectman Mefford Runyon said. “The affordable housing committee is policy, search, identification, the connection into the community. When all is said or done a year or two out, the affordable housing committee will still be the more important of the two. The trust is just there to try to make things happen that the affordable housing people wish to have happen.”

Eagerness to serve on the trust created a surplus not just of candidates from the community but also from the board. The bylaw calls for five to seven members, with at least one being a selectman. Runyon and Chairman Alan McClennen, both former bank officers, offered to serve.

The trust “is a very important, strong arm of the board of selectmen,” McClennen said. “As we proceed to put this together, we should have two members of the board on this committee. Two members out of seven would not be a majority.”

Selectman David Currier said he'd be comfortable with the board having only one member. “I feel like every meeting when we're trying to get people to volunteer for these boards, we fill up a spot with a person already on a board,” he said. Nine applicants had come forward to join the trust, not including the two selectmen.

Selectman Kevin Galligan suggested that one selectman could be a member and the other an alternate. That change, and increasing membership from seven to nine, would need town meeting approval.

McClennen said he could accept having just one selectman serve. “I'd like to get this trust up and running as soon as possible so we can take some actions almost immediately,” he said. “George (Meservey, director of planning and community development) and I have had some conversations about parcels. George has had conversations with Habitat for Humanity; if we can find parcels, they'll come in and build houses.”

The board appointed McClennen to the trust. He'll be joined by non-profit manager Henry Brehm, building company CEO and zoning board member Matt Cole, architect and former zoning board member Greg DeLory, educator Wade Ghory, attorney and former town moderator Duane Landreth, and Nauset Regional High School teacher Alexis Mathison. She's the daughter of Selectman Mark Mathison, who recused himself from the vote.

Before the vote, Landreth said he was “humbled to be among such a talented group.” A view of how the trust might operate was advanced, again before the vote to appoint, by Ghory. “I'm not a builder. I'm not a financier,” he said, adding that he had overseen construction of schools as an administrator. “I've been in the position of having to tell the story of these projects, sell the vision, communicate with people who were skeptical or opposed, trying to find the path forward... Affordable housing has been an interest of mine since back in the war on poverty, which I don't think we've won.”

Hours before the selectmen met Jan. 2, the affordable housing committee agreed to spend $25,000 in community preservation funds for an architect's conceptual study of the Cape Cod Five operations center off West Road. The bank is building a new headquarters in Barnstable, and an earlier analysis just of the building found that it could accommodate 29 one-bedroom units, five on the lower floor and 12 each on two floors above. By coincidence, that was one unit short of a threshold requiring mandatory Cape Cod Commission review, but Meservey said he didn't believe that “was the driver” for coming up with the number.

When the selectmen and the committee met with Laura Shufelt of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership last month, she advised them that a development at the site would attract more funding if more units were offered. “There could be additional townhouses around the periphery,” Meservey said. Twelve of those would help the development approach the “sweet spot” for funding with a total of 41.

“I want to see how many we can get on there,” said committee chair Katie Wibby. “Can't we do more (than 29)? I think we can based on what Laura said and what the land can sustain.”

Meservey said a letter of intent to the bank regarding pursuit of a purchase and sales agreement is being drafted for the board of selectmen. He added that the bank “is probably a full year from getting out of there.”

The committee asked Meservey to contact the owner of Bayberry Square on Route 6A, aka the Underground Mall, regarding a possible sale. The property is on the market. The board reviewed the pros and cons of other properties with potential for affordable units, including four acres at John Avellar Circle near senior housing. That site will be reviewed more closely at the board's next meeting.