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Affordable housing growing in Scituate, but still far below state threshold

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 23, 2012 02:58 PM

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More than six years after an affordable housing complex was initially proposed to the town, the developer has announced that several of the affordable units are for sale. Yet despite the addition, the units won't be enough to help comply with the state's 40B law.

According to the Whitcomb Pines Condominium Information Packet, available on the town’s website, the complex was initially proposed in the mid-2000s for 40 townhouses to be located on Mann Lot Road back.

Ten of the units were to be sold for $180,000 to first-time homebuyers with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area's median income.

A lottery was held in May 2006 for applicants. Three of the units were sold over the next few years, but the rest were not. Now, Whitcomb Pines is accepting applications for the seven remaining units that eventually will come on to the market. The price will remain $180,000.

Representatives from JWO Consultant Services, a lottery coordinator for Whitcomb Pines LLC said that affordable houses have come on the market along with market-priced ones.

Developer Jack Livingston hopes to have at least one more affordable unit ready by late spring, and another open by the end of the year.

According to Building Inspector Neil Duggan, the main reason for the delay was the crash of the housing market.

"{The developer) received a comprehensive permit from town and started construction and built eight to nine units. And the economy tanked, and everyone stopped construction. But he recently started up again,” Duggan said. “[The developer] came back to the Zoning Board for extensions.

"Typically the zoning board will put a completion date on a project, but given the state of the housing market, the zoning board has granted him two extensions.”

According to Duggan, the units will add to the approximately 435 units of affordable housing in the town, leaving the town far short of the 40B threshold.

Under the law, in towns where fewer than 10 percent of the housing units are classified as affordable, developers promising to offer at least 20 percent of the units at below-market prices are given wide latitude in avoiding local zoning ordinances.

With current residency numbers, the town needs a total of about 900 units to reach that 10 percent.

It’s an impossible task, said Selectman John Danehey, who is also a member of the Affordable Housing Trust.

“As we build more and more homes…[and as] you increase the number of residences, the percentage goes up. You’ll never reach that goal,” he said. “The other problem is there only so much land that the town owns you can build on. There’s only so much land buildable anyway. So to do 40B you have to have a lot of density.”

The town is doing what it can to address this; currently, the Affordable Housing Trust is looking to sell two units, but is waiting on lottery approval from the state.

Additionally, the Housing Authority is looking to turn 12 acres of land on The Driftway that can be developed into apartments or residencies.

“Next month with have meeting between the trust, authority, and Council on Aging to discuss options on how to develop that parcel for affordability,” Danehey said.

Regardless, 40Bs remain an issue for the town.

A developer on Stockbridge has wanted to build over 70 condominiums for some time, while a proposed development for 60 units on Route 3A, called Herring Brook, is in litigation. Furthermore, a large development was proposed for Hatherly Road, which has since been declined.

“It is a threat and concern? Absolutely. The threat is a developer who is doing it just for the sake of money…but if there is a developer that is trying to do something working with the town, they can do what Whitcomb Pines did. And that’s a good project,” Danehey said.

Regardless of where the town is at in terms of the state numbers, Danehey said town officials are doing what they can to meet their own needs.

“We’re trying to move our way towards affordability,” Danehey said. “If the town can get what it needs for affordability, maybe 6 percent, then the town is doing the right thing, getting for its people what it needs. Sooner or later the market will bear what it needs.”

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