Main Street Housing Article Dropped From Warrant

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Housing and homelessness , Community Preservation Act

An article seeking $1 million in community preservation funds for the proposed 14-unit affordable housing project at the site of the former Masonic Lodge on Main Street will not go before voters at special town meeting next month. The community preservation committee earlier this month voted against recommending that the project be financed with CPA funds. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS — Lacking the support of the community preservation committee, an article to secure $1 million for a proposed 14-unit affordable housing project at 107 Main St. will not go before voters at next month’s special town meeting.

Alan McClennen, chairman of the affordable housing trust board, asked the select board Sept. 22 to withdraw the article from the warrant for the Oct. 25 session. The affordable housing trust board voted the day before to ask for the withdrawal after discussions with members of the affordable housing committee and Housing Assistance Corporation, the nonprofit agency partnering with the town on the development.

“This project is not ready to go to town meeting,” he told the select board.

HAC, which was the lone respondent to a request for proposals from the town for the former Masonic Lodge, wants to raze the existing building and build 14 units of affordable housing on the property. The agency’s proposal calls for nine one-bedroom and four two-bedroom units, as well as one three-bedroom unit.

An application is before MassHousing to qualify the project as a 40B development, which would allow the waiver of certain zoning and other regulations.

The town has been asked by HAC to chip in $1.87 million toward the $5.9 million project, a third of the overall project cost. The affordable housing trust board has $876,624 of its own funding to put toward that figure, while community preservation act funds were sought to cover the remaining $1 million of the town’s portion of the cost.

But the community preservation committee voted 4-3 Sept. 16 against recommending the funding for the project at the special town meeting. Issues cited by members included the density of the project, its design and the estimated $180,000 per-unit construction cost.

Speaking before members of the affordable housing trust board and the affordable housing committee Sept. 21, HAC CEO Alisa Magnotta criticized what she called misinformation from the community preservation committee about the project. In particular, she took issue with CPC members calling the agency’s financial numbers on the project into question, which she called “shocking” and “a little bit irresponsible.”

Magnotta also noted that the request for community preservation act funding was supported not only by the trust board and the affordable housing committee, but also the select board.

“That’s really a powerful statement for you three to be locked arms in bringing an affordable housing project to that committee to fund,” she said.

David Quinn, director of housing and development and planning for HAC, said while larger affordable housing projects attract investors who front a large portion of the project cost, that is not the case for smaller projects such as the one proposed for 107 Main St.

“So what you have is more of a local funding approach to the project,” he said. The trade-off, Quinn said, is that the 107 Main St. building, which calls for a farmhouse design, will be a better fit for the town.

“This is really the housing that we’ve been asked to build and that the community wants to see built in their neighborhoods,” he said.

The per-unit cost for the Main Street project is almost $40,000 higher than that of the Pennrose redevelopment of the former Cape Cod Five operations center on West Road. Andrea Reed, the select board’s liaison to the affordable housing trust board, suggested that that has in part cast a pall over the Main Street project.

But Magnotta said HAC is not discouraged by the setback with the community preservation funding, and she expressed confidence that other funding courses can be found to keep the project in play.

“We don’t feel defeated,” she said. “We feel this is the course of action and what normally happens. We’re still very committed to this project and committed to see it move forward.”

One possible funding source could come in the way of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), although Magnotta said the availability of funding through the act is unknown. She asked to come back before the affordable housing trust board “in a couple of weeks” with more information on possible funding options.

“We have a sense of urgency,” she said. “We have a clock ticking and dollars in it, so we’re not going to let it sit for long.”

Katherine Wibby of the affordable housing trust board voiced her support for withdrawing the article and allowing HAC officials more time to explore funding alternatives, as opposed to coming back to the trust board for additional funding.

With other potential housing projects in the pipeline, including at the site of the Governor Prence Inn, Wibby said the trust board has to be mindful not to commit too much funding to any one project.

“I was thinking we were walking in here looking at you asking us to deplete every resource that the trust has,” she said. “That’s where I’m not comfortable.”

Magnotta said while the town won’t be asked to put up more money for the project, the timetable for when the town might be asked to deliver on its share of the funding could be subject to change.

“The idea of being able to partner with you and look at how this all might work is attractive, and I’m grateful for it,” said Ward Ghory of the trust board.

Meanwhile, Quinn said that the project is set to go before the town’s architectural review committee, and that the project’s architect and engineer are prepared to move forward with a full project design.

“What I hope we can talk about at the next meeting is how we can keep that process moving through permitting, through design, while we continue to figure out some of this other stuff,” he said.