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Developers eye affordable elderly housing

For the first time in nearly two years, developers are in preliminary discussions with town officials about building affordable housing in Framingham aimed at the growing population of aging suburbanites.

Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly hopes to build its 150-unit project on a site that was rejected two years ago for a development because Framingham had met the statutory minimum of having 10 percent of its housing stock deemed affordable.

Since then, however, the below-market rate housing supply has fallen to about 9.81 percent in Framingham, according to town officials. But unless a developer challenges the town, the state technically views Framingham as having 10 percent affordable housing stock until the next census.

In the meantime, another developer has held informal talks with senior planning officials about using affordable housing as a way to build a 15-unit development on Carter Drive for people over age 55 that otherwise is not permitted by the town.

Under Chapter 40B of the state's housing law, developers can bypass some local zoning requirements if they agree to sell or rent at least 25 percent of their units at below-market rates.

"I hate to see us lose people who have lived in Framingham for a long period of time just because there are no housing options," said Donna Jacobs, a town senior planner.

No formal applications have been submitted for either development, but the proposed 40B projects are already causing controversy around town. Earlier this week, an associate member of the Zoning Board of Appeals discussed the two proposals in e-mail messages to Town Meeting members and a community discussion list with the subject "Watch out for the Killer 40B's."

Philip R. Ottaviani Jr., vice chairman of the zoning board, sent a memo to the other members on Wednesday, saying that associate member, Ned Price, was ineligible to sit on the board because he "has expressed an opinion" and the chairman of the board, David Norton, would recuse himself on one of the cases because he has a business relationship.

"You can't express opinions one way or another before the case has arrived," Ottaviani said. "You have to go in with an open mind and hear both sides."

In an effort to expand affordable housing options in the community, Framingham officials plan to bring back two proposals for Town Meeting to consider later this year. The first initiative would allow age-restricted developments in Framingham, and the second proposal would require all new subdivisions with more than 10 units to earmark 10 percent for affordable housing.

Both of these proposals came before Town Meeting over the past two years, but neither secured support. This time around, however, Jacobs said she is hopeful that the revised measures will gain support to address the inadequate affordable housing supply, particularly for older residents.

Although the Framingham Housing Authority does not have a waiting list for senior housing, Bill Casamento, the agency's executive director, said he expects a real jump in demand over the next few years as the baby boom generation ages.

Beth Bannon, a former Town Meeting member, said she backed the over-55 zoning provision that was ultimately defeated at Town Meeting because she was having trouble downsizing to a smaller home in Framingham. The long-time resident said the only choices available were a high-rise apartment or another single-family house, so she ended up moving several towns over to Marlborough into an over-55 condominium community.

"Framingham is my home and I loved it there," Bannon said. "I really wanted to stay, but there were no options."

Ellen Feingold, president of the Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, acknowledged that Chapter 40B proposals can be controversial, and said she was hoping the town would approve the project, even though it technically has met the minimum 10 percent for affordable housing.

When asked whether she would challenge the certification, Feingold said, "We're not there yet, we're still exploring how we're going to do this."

The not-for-profit organization is unveiling its project to the Framingham Housing Partnership next month, and Feingold estimated that 50 percent of the 150-units on Edmands Road would be affordable, and the rest would sell at market rate.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at

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