Hingham officials have found a way to build a controversy-free affordable-housing project: design it themselves.
Selectmen last Thursday signed off on an agreement with a developer to construct eight small, cottage-like homes on a three-acre lot at 80 Beal St., with two of the homes priced at $220,000 each. The units could be on sale as early as this fall.
Town officials have been working since last summer to sign up a developer for the project, which is being built under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law, after designing the project themselves.
That largely explains why, unlike other affordable-housing projects, which often draw neighbors’ ire for their size or design, this project is sailing smoothly into Hingham.
“We held two neighborhood meetings early on. We had the hearing before zoning, where we got a comprehensive permit for it. There were no concerns expressed at that time and we have heard none since,” said selectmen chairwoman Laura Burns.
These so-called “friendly 40Bs” are being developed elsewhere in the state, as communities take up these projects as a way to meet their affordable-housing goal, said Matthew Sheaf, a spokesman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
“This isn’t rare at all,” Sheaf said. “We have a number of communities in all shapes and sizes doing a variety of projects supported by their local government, all towards the goal of providing affordable housing in their community. Beal Street is a great project, and the town has put a lot of effort towards pursuing affordable housing.”
For their part, Hingham officials are welcoming the project.
“It’s just going to be a very attractive development and much preferable to what’s there now — a very large, ugly house right on the road. And I think everyone in town will be pleased with the results,” said Burns.
Officials chose South Carolina-based Craftsman Builders, and last Thursday selectmen signed a developers’ agreement and a purchase-and-sale agreement for the land.
If all goes well, the groups will close on the purchase before the end of February, construction will begin soon after that, and occupancy can start within months.
Town officials have been working since 2009 to build a 40B project, which requires at least 25 percent of the houses to be sold at an “affordable” level, on the Beal Street lot.
Under the 40B law, in towns where fewer than 10 percent of the housing units are classified as affordable, developers are given wide latitude in avoiding local zoning ordinances.
For the Beal Street property, Hingham officials have been eyeing a project that would increase the affordable-housing inventory while not sullying the town’s aesthetic.
The homes were designed by Strekalovsky Architecture Inc., which was contracted for $70,000 to take the project through the planning stages.
The town settled on this cottage design, because “people in Hingham like the detached home concept,” Burns said.
”We intended it as the model for how to build affordable housing in Hingham that Hingham will like,” Burns said. “Some years ago the Town Meeting designated 11 acres on a parcel, that happens to be continuous to 80 Beal St., designated for affordable housing. This 80 Beal is meant to be a pilot project for that larger’’ one.
Meeting the 10 percent affordable-housing mandate has proved tricky for Hingham for some time.
Under the law, rental units can all be claimed as affordable, even if only a portion actually are. For condos or single-family homes, only the properties that are actually affordable count toward the town’s number. Hingham officials consider the Linden Ponds retirement community as rental, giving the town an affordable-housing level of 13 percent.
But the DCHD maintains that Hingham can’t count all Linden Ponds units toward the goal, and is at 6 percent.
Because Hingham hasn’t reached the threshold in the state’s eyes, it is facing the prospect of a 177-unit unit development near Recreation Park Drive, which has drawn intense neighborhood objections.
Whatever the level of affordable housing, the Beal Street homes will boost Hingham’s stock of affordable housing. The $220,000 price for the two below-market units is intended to be affordable for a household earning 70 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.
According to Burns, the overall project also has the benefit of providing “entry level” homes for smaller families.
“The other six homes are small, 1,400 square feet, and restricted to the size by their condo agreement,” Burns said. “They will always be small homes. They won’t tear them down or replace them, or add on to them; they will buy another house. This is always to be an entry-level home . . . which is a product we’re losing in Hingham.”
In Hingham, however, “entry level” doesn’t mean cheap. The price of the other six units is estimated at about $500,000.
The land was purchased by Hingham’s Affordable Housing Trust in 2009 for $400,000. The town expects the land sale will enable the town to recoup that cost. The money spent on architects might be recouped from the project’s profits.
The $150,000 given to the project by the town’s Community Preservation Committee will not be recouped, however, as that expenditure is helping to keep the price affordable.
Most of the estimated $2.9 million cost of the project will be incurred by the developer, which will generate revenue when the buildings are sold.