Trustee Catherine Yamamoto said the housing needs consultant found the town had lost 'hundreds' of single-family home rentals — likely an error that had captured the Spruces.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Affordable Housing Trust is hoping to raise its profile and explain its purpose to citizens by filling out its mostly blank Web page.
"I have detected in some casual conversation with people in town some uncertainty about us an entity," said Chairman Stanley Parese on Wednesday night, adding that people seemed confused about what the trust was and what it was doing.
"It would be good for us to have an easy way for people to have a better sense of what we are," he said. "I was really quite surprised to find people in the community who were thinking we were a private organization and doing things and not part of municipal government."
The trust was established and funded at last year's town meeting; trustees were appointed by the Selectmen and includes one of that board's members.
The issue of the online access had been raised at the last meeting and trustees were asked to look around the Web to see what other trusts were doing. Parese said Williamstown's page on the town site was spare, reflecting its very young age. He thought Cambridge's page was the "gold standard" in that it had a great deal of depth and information but acknowledged it was part of a larger department with more money.
Trustee Catherine Yamamato, also chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee, said she had looked at other affordable housing sites and they typically had postings of minutes, relative reports, plans, and projects of other municipalities that seemed interesting or attractive.
Parese thought the minutes should be on the trust's page along with a copy of the trust and the town warrant article that created, as well as an explanation of the trust's charge and its action plan.
All that documentation is public, he said, but most people don't have time to track it down. He planned to contact Town Manager Peter Fohlin about posting the items.
"Having it readily accessible would be a good idea," said Parese.
The town has still not heard whether it is getting a $6.25 million Hazard Mitigation Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The town hopes to use the grant to solve the issue of the floodprone Spruces Mobile Home Park by buying the park and creating affordable housing elsewhere.
"I'm very sanguine about us getting the grant," said Trustee Thomas Sheldon. "At this point but we do not have the definitive word,"
After the meeting, Sheldon, who worked in state government for many years, said federal officials had been asking for more details on the application, which in his experience was a good sign.
Where affordable housing would be built is still up in the air. The town is looking at a number of properties, including two brownfields. The former town garage site on Water Street is expected to undergo soil remediation shortly. Yamamoto said the town is currently negotiating lower costs with Tighe & Bond for work along the river of the former Photech site on Cole Avenue and for evaluating the existing building, the "Cube," before applying to MassDevelopment for funding.
In other business, Yamamoto said she had spoken to consultant John Ryan, who is preparing a housing needs assessment of Williamstown. He is expected to complete his work by March 31 and will present his report at the April 16 meeting of the Affordable Housing Committee.
"He found an anomoly in some of the data regarding the number of rental houses in town," she said. "And that it was so dramatic the loss of rental homes, in town, the decline in numbers, he questioned the validity of it."
Since the loss was in the hundreds, Yamamoto thought that the Census data he was using had mistakenly captured the Spruces, where some 150 homes were lost from flooding. The residents in the park own their homes but rent their lots.
"We don't have hundreds of rental homes, single-family homes," she said. Not surprising, his report is showing that Williamstown is getting older and wealthier.
The next meeting of the trust will be Tuesday, April 2, at 6:30, prior to the Affordable Housing Committee at 7.