Town’s Affordable Housing Path Takes Many A Twist And Turn

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Housing and homelessness

Members of the affordable housing trust (left to right, Henry Brehm, Alexis Mathison, Ward Ghory, Katie Wibby, Alan McClennen, and Matt Cole) received packets from Orleans Conservation Trust Director Stephen O’Grady at last week’s housing trust meeting.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS It’s not easy finding an affordable place to live on Cape Cod, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that increasing the town’s stock of affordable housing is not a simple task.

Like homeowners pouncing on every possibility, the affordable housing committee and the affordable housing trust board have pursued a full portfolio of options: purchasing land on which Habitat for Humanity will build homes, paying for studies of the housing potential of sites such as the Cape Cod Five operations center and the former Masonic Hall, seeking to secure a line of credit, looking at foreclosures, and weighing purchase of a condo unit.

The agreement with Habitat was reached in May, but given the agency’s construction schedule, it may be several years before homeowners move in. Meanwhile, the committee and the board are moving forward on other fronts.

At an Oct. 3 joint session, members learned of the latest catch in a plan to buy a condo unit on Old Colony Way, subsidize the purchase price to an income-eligible buyer, and keep the unit affordable in perpetuity. Although the condo association has waived its right of first refusal to buy the property, it appears the town would not be able to place a deed restriction ensuring affordability in its subsequent sale to a buyer. At the time of that sale, the association would again have right of first refusal and could acquire the unit without the restriction and sell it at market price.

“There’s another way to do this,” trust chairman Alan McClennen said. Noting previous interest in the trust buying and renting, rather than selling, the unit, he asked, “What would happen if we bought it, which we can right away, and we don’t use Community Preservation funds, because CPC requires deed restrictions? As a trust which is chartered to provide affordable housing, we have the ability to lease that unit for affordable housing.”

The alternative, he said, is to go back to the selectmen “and say we don’t want to buy it. That means that any condo association in Orleans that has this kind of provision… we’d never be able to buy with a deed restriction and sell it.” It’s estimated that there are about 600 condos in Orleans, all valued under $500,000.

If the trust maintained ownership, it would need to engage a management agent. Trust member and committee chair Katie Wibby suggested investigating carrying costs and the trust agreed to that step before voting on a purchase to rent.

“If it doesn’t work, we sell it,” McClennen said. “It’s a gamble to see if this portfolio of units may be useful to meet affordable and workforce housing needs in Orleans.”

The meeting included updates on other housing initiatives. With funds from the trust, SV Design found that the former Masonic Hall at 107 Main St., now owned by Cape Abilities, could be renovated for either nine one-bedroom or four two-bedroom and three one-bedroom units. Regarding the possible conversion of the bank operations center to housing, based on an architectural review funded by the trust, McClennen, Wibby, and board member Matt Cole volunteered to serve as a committee to meet with bank officials to review options. “The town is not gonna buy this,” McClennen said. “If we buy it, there’s a 30 percent premium on every bit of construction, but the town might come up with some money to help make it work, just as happened in Eastham (with the Nauset Green affordable development).”

The committee and trust also heard from the Orleans Conservation Trust about a possible housing opportunity. Charlie Carlson, chair of OCT’s land acquisition committee, and Director Stephen O’Grady spoke about efforts to buy three lots off Portaminicut Road in South Orleans. Plans are to remove a dilapidated house on one of the lots, but if fundraising falls short, OCT could pursue acquisition of some of the land by the housing trust for affordable housing. Carlson said the original plan for the lot was a trail access area with parking; that would be reduced in scope if an affordable home were to be built there as well. OCT has just a few months left to raise funds to acquire the properties.

The trust and the committee went into executive session to discuss options for a property under foreclosure at 14 Brewster Cross Rd.