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Groton’s 4 Housing Entities Have Diverse Duties

by Connie Sartini
 
With an anticipated vacancy on the Affordable Housing Trust, the Select Board discussed the charges for not only the Affordable Housing Trust, but also for the other two appointed committees in town that are also focused on housing – the Housing Partnership, and the Housing Authority.
     Any resident who would like to volunteer for the Affordable Housing Trust should fill out a Committee Interest Form available at https://www. grotonma.gov/government/ boards.../committee-interest- form/
   Planning Board
    In addition to these three committees, Groton Planning Board is responsible for development of a Housing Production Plan. The purposes of this plan are to increase Groton’s inventory of low-and moderate-income housing, address local and regional housing needs, and reduce barriers to affordable housing production. Toward these ends, the plan is intended to help Groton create more affordable housing on a gradual but steady basis, consistent with the state's housing plan regulations at 760 CMR 56.03(4) and the goals and policies of the Groton Master Plan (2012).
     Because Groton is a member of the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, the town is eligible to apply to the MRPC for state-issued technical assistance grants. Groton has applied and has been awarded a grant under this program to have an MRPC planner update the town’s Housing Production Plan and for assistance in updating the plan.
     To understand the roles of Groton’s three housing committees, Groton's Housing Coordinator Fran Stanley said, “It helps to understand how affordable housing has been funded over the years. Originally, public housing authorities were created to serve as the owners and landlords of low-income subsidized rentals.
     "Funding for new affordable housing traditionally has come from the federal government. The federal government continues to supply the lion’s share of the funding today. Historically, the federal government during the administrations of Johnson and Nixon spent large sums on building low-income, rental apartment buildings and then continued to subsidize the rents and pay for needed maintenance over time. In that era the idea of affordable housing was largely synonymous with public housing authority rental units.
     “This ‘command and control’ type of public housing authority units built and supported by the federal government worked but was an expensive model. The federal government’s funding for new low-income rental units dwindled from the early 1970s on. Groton still managed to obtain funding for its 20 units of senior/ disabled rental housing and the Groton Housing Authority was formed in 1982.
     “Groton Housing Authority is the oldest of Groton’s three housing committees. At one point, it was the only dedicated housing organization in Groton and so was given the task of monitoring oversight for the homeownership affordable units created in the 1990s and 2000s. Groton Housing Authority has cooperated with the town to add to its rental inventory with such projects as Sandy Pond Apartments and Brookfield units. That said, the Groton Housing Authority’s largest responsibility is that of a landlord for its existing rental inventory.”
State Funds
     Stanley said, “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does contribute some additional funds for affordable housing. Also, the Commonwealth has provided indirect assistance for affordable housing through zoning. In 1969 the Commonwealth passed MGL Chapter 40B which allows developers to build more densely in exchange for producing some affordable housing.”
     She added, “Much of the 40B comprehensive permit projects were proposed by for-profit developers. Some charities such as Habitat for Humanity have used grants and favorable zoning to create new affordable housing too. A feature of this latter-day affordable housing is that the level of affordability is shallower than the old-style public housing rentals. Most 40B development creates units that assist households earning up to 80 percent of the area median income. To produce deeper subsidies, typically more funding is required.
     "Currently, the federal government uses tax credits as the largest funding source for new rental units. Tax credits are a complicated, but nevertheless creative, funding mechanism.”
     Stanley stressed, “The Housing Partnership is an optional committee that was encouraged by the Commonwealth as a way to assist in production of new affordable housing. A housing partnership can be an early point of contact for developers who are interested in proposing a project with new affordable housing.
     "Groton’s “friendly 40B” policy, which has the housing partnership as the developer’s initial point of contact, is an example. As affordable housing has gotten more complicated, with multiple funding sources often needed as well as the usual permitting hurdles, the advisory input from a housing partnership can be quite helpful.”
Affordable Housing Trust
     The Affordable Housing Trust was accepted by Town Meeting in 2008 and legally organized in 2010, and is the youngest of the Town’s housing committees. Stanley said, “Housing trusts provide a way for towns to be more proactive about affordable housing. Funding and direction from a housing trust can encourage or directly build new affordable housing. Prior to passage of housing trust enabling legislation, individual towns and cities could create their own housing trusts but the process was expensive and time-consuming.
     Many towns that adopted the Community Preservation Act, which funds community housing projects, also pulled together a housing trust to help further their affordable housing goals. Housing trusts are most effective when they have funding, but the committee can also contribute non-financial assistance similar in ways to the housing partnership.” The purpose of the Trust is to provide for the preservation and creation of affordable housing in the Groton for the benefit of low-and moderate-income households. One seat on the Trust will be filled by a member of the Select Board. To the greatest extent possible, the board shall have broad expertise including knowledge of real estate law, housing, development, finance, and housing advocacy as well as representation from relevant municipal boards. The Trust has five members.
The Housing Partnership
     The Housing Partnership works with private developers and various town boards involved in the permit process (including the Housing Authority) to evaluate proposals and make recommendations, primarily for first-time homebuyers.
The five members of the Housing Partnership are charged to consider the housing needs of the town, and to encourage production and creation of affordable housing.
     The Partnership is voluntary, and is not a state-mandated program.
The Housing Authority
The Housing Authority, which was formed in 1982, has a central role in the town's affordable housing policy. There are also five members on the Authority with responsibility to identify and address the need for affordable housing in Groton and develop policies and strategies to meet those needs; for management of policy and oversight of the town's Elderly and Family Housing Programs; to negotiate with developers for affordable housing units in return for an increase in density of particular developments; and may receive title to actual housing units, parcels of land, or cash in lieu of units, or land, from developers.
     In 1990 the Authority completed its first affordable housing complex, which it owns and operates. The complex consists of 20 units of elderly/disabled housing, developed through the Commonwealth's Chapter 667 Program, and seven units of family housing through the Chapter 705 Program.
     The Authority also owns a few ‘scattered site’ apartments rented to low-income households.
     The town is fortunate to have two additional apartment complexes serving low-income households:
• Winthrop Place. 24 one-, two-, and three-bedroom low-income apartments. This apartment complex is privately owned, but publicly subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program;
• Groton Commons. 34 units of housing for the elderly/disabled on Willowdale Road, built under a HUD grant and managed by nonprofit RCAP Solutions.
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