CPC Hammers Lack Of Accounting Of Affordable Housing Trust Spending

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Housing and homelessness , Municipal Finance , Community Preservation Act

Town Administrator Joseph Powers. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH – Since 2018, town meeting approved more than $1 million in Community Preservation Act funds for the affordable housing trust, yet the community preservation committee has no record of how the money was spent.

The absence of an accounting of expenditures came to light Nov. 2 when Town Administrator Joseph Powers made presentations to the community preservation committee (CPC) on applications filed by the town for the use of community preservation funds for projects in the upcoming fiscal year.

Among the requests were $500,000 for the trust to “create and preserve affordable housing in the town of Harwich,” and an additional for the town to $50,000 to hire a part-time housing coordinator.

Powers, through his position as town administrator, is the designated chairman of the town’s affordable housing trust. He took over as chairman from Selectman Donald Howell, who served in that capacity after the departure of former town Administrator Christopher Clark.

In response to CPC members' request for a status report on housing initiatives, Powers gave an overview of the trust’s purchase of the 13.2-acre Pleasant Lake Avenue parcel, the former Marceline property, and walked the committee through the recent special town meeting vote to take by eminent domain a two-acre owners unknown parcel adjacent to the Marceline land.

“No documents have come through to the committee,” CPC Chairman David Nixon said of the purchase.

“We haven’t seen any expenditures from the affordable housing trust,” CPC member John Ketchum said. “It’s a gross oversight. I think we should be able to see a complete accounting of CPC money spent. I’m assuming more money has been spent other than on the Pleasant Lake Avenue property. I’d like to know what the expenses are.”

“We weren’t informed about a lot of things from the trust before [Powers] took over and that’s why there was a push to an internal person to help the trust,” Nixon said. “It all kinda backed into each other. This board should have been informed. So from here on out I’m sure we’re going to get the information.”

“Without a doubt, you will absolutely receive full accounting of that, and let me emphasize it’s not simply because they (the funds) come from the CPC, it’s because the majority of the funds that have been expended have come from the CPC,” Powers responded.

The town has voted nearly $1.2 million in CPA funds for the trust’s use since 2018. The Pleasant Lake Avenue property cost $800,000. The trust also receives funds through the East Harwich cell tower lease and will be able to access additional funds through the affordable housing special purpose stabilization fund established in the October special town meeting. Powers told the committee there is $416,000 remaining in the trust’s account.

CPC member Elizabeth Harder asked about the trust’s project to develop housing on land adjacent to the Harwich Junior Theatre studio on Sisson Road in conjunction with the Massachusetts Housing Partnership. Harder said it was her understanding the project would be completed by spring.

The Sisson Road parcel remains under the jurisdiction of the board of selectmen and has yet to be transferred to the trust, Power said, so it is not possible to complete a project on the parcel at this time. The trust does not have any parcels of land other than the Pleasant Lake Avenue property that was purchased this year, he said.

Powers said he has not seen design or construction plans for the Sisson Road property. The trust funded a soil test but he was not sure if the funds came from the CPC or cell tower funds. The CPC will get a full report from the finance director, he said.

“The lack of information, reporting, really shows a disrespect for the process we put in place,” CPC member Kathy Green said. 

 As interim town administrator, Powers said, he was the new guy and was functioning in “a caretaker role, so I purposely tried to leave a light footprint.” He committed to providing the committee with the details of the trust’s spending of CPA  money. The CPC and Powers also discussed the town hiring of a part-time housing coordinator  and whether the position should be a full-time position, but no decisions were made on that and the trust's requests for $500,000.