Housing Initiatives Edging Ahead On Several Fronts

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Housing and homelessness

The town-owned former water department building on Old Harbor Road has been eyed for potential affordable housing. FILE PHOTO


CHATHAM — With the burgeoning need for affordable and attainable housing, selectmen are methodically moving ahead on several initiatives.

“We do hear a lot of criticism about us not getting things done, but I think we’ve been very thoughtful in our approach,” Selectmen Chairman Shareen Davis said at last week’s board meeting. “We’re taking these steps in a way that’s going to build on itself, in a way that’s really good for the town.”

The town received three responses from housing agencies interested in administering a new emergency rental assistance program, and Community Development Director Katie Donovan said the Hyannis-based Housing Assistance Corporation was selected after a thorough vetting.

“That was based not only on the administration fee, but also their vast experience in that type of program,” she said.

The town is also seeking to hire a housing and community engagement consultant, and will be interviewing the two respondents soon. The best candidate will have “expertise in managing projects that result in affordable or attainable housing,” Donovan said. Principal Planner Aly Sabatino said the consultant will also help lead a broad discussion about housing in Chatham.

“We really hope that our future housing initiatives will be a community-driven process,” she said. The consultant will need to engage the community in a series of public meetings “so we can get a lot of feedback from the residents to figure out what kind of housing is appropriate going forward for these specific developments.”

The town recently completed a digital inventory of the properties it owns, and will tap that inventory to consider parcels that are appropriate for developing housing. Together with a town-owned parcel on Middle Road and any properties that emerge from the town’s ongoing request for proposals from private property owners interested in selling to the town, officials will evaluate all of those parcels as part of a single process.

Board member Peter Cocolis said he hopes the discussion includes land on the Marconi-MCI campus in Chathamport, and Selectmen Jeffrey Dykens said he’d like an investigation of a town-owned parcel off Hamden Place in North Chatham. Davis said she’d also like consideration of the former water department offices on Old Harbor Road.

With regard to the land on Middle Road, selectmen asked the town’s Community Housing Partnership (formerly the affordable housing committee) to propose the use of a portion of that land for a housing development. But partnership members felt strongly that the entire parcel should be considered for housing. Davis said she agrees with this approach, but other board members feel differently.

Selectman Cory Metters said, given the opposition of nearby residents to the previous council on aging proposal for Middle Road, “I don’t want to put too many eggs in one basket.” The best approach is to segment the land and try and create a certain amount of housing “in a timely manner.”

Partnership member Karolyn McClelland acknowledged the potential for opposition from neighbors. “I know it can get sticky, and I know there might be issues there, but I really don’t think that’s a legitimate reason to take part of it, or a substantial part of it, off the table,” she said. “The town is finally sinking their teeth into this problem, and they should look at Middle Road in its entirety.”

The board is expected to continue its affordable housing discussion in the next few weeks.