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The Affordable Housing Trust board delayed action on a funding request until all five members were present.

Higher Ground Group Asks for $100,000 from Williamstown Housing Trust

By Stephen Dravis
08:29PM / Thursday, December 05, 2013
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Mollye Wolahan is asking the Affordable Housing Trust to commit $100,000 to the senior housing planed off Southworth Street.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The developers looking to build an affordable housing project at the end of Southworth Street asked the Affordable Housing Trust on Wednesday night for $100,000 to help make the project a reality.
 
Mollye Wolahan of Boston's Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development appeared before the trust's board of directors to give an update on the progress of the project and explain how that $100,000 will help the $12 million development.
 
Two members of the three-person board who attended the meeting asked Wolahan whether the contribution — less than 1 percent of the projected cost — is significant enough to warrant depleting the trust's reserve by about 25 percent.
 
Wolahan explained that cash commitments are an essential piece of the funding puzzle, which likely will include much larger pieces in the form of low-income housing tax credits when all is said and done.
 
"Every $50,000 is a big deal in terms of reducing what we have to look for from other competitive sources," Wolahan said. "I don't want to minimize the value. I would never say $100,000 is not a big deal. ... It's the softer money that makes these things work and makes the affordability happen."
 
Wolahan told the AHT board that the Women's Institute and its partners (Pittsfield's Berkshire Housing Development Corp. and Williamstown's Higher Ground and the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corp.) also plan to ask for $100,000 from the Community Preservation Act funds that will be allocated at Town Meeting in the spring.
 
And she reminded the board that local contributions can be leveraged to win competitions for state and federal funds.
 
"In this part of the project, we're looking to low-income housing tax credits as the primary source," she said. "That's competitive with the [Massachusetts] Department of Housing and Community Development. ... We need to show a credible and a viable financing plan with local support.
 
"The state, as you know, is always looking for the municipality to support a project. The efforts that have happened in Williamstown around affordable housing since Tropical Storm Irene and how it's galvanized everyone is amazing," Wolahan said. "The fact that we're having this conversation is amazing, and I'm impressed by that."
 
Last month, the Selectmen voted to pledge $2.6 million to the Higher Ground-led project from the proceeds of a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant resulting from Irene's devastation to the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
 
Wolahan reaffirmed to the housing trust on Wednesday that the consortium of non-profits is committed to building 40 units of replacement housing in time for the anticipated March 2016 closure of the park.
 
"Typically, an affordable housing development takes 4 1/2 years," Wolahan said, speaking in front of a timeline for the Spruces closure that dominates discussion in the Selectmen's Meeting Room at Town Hall.
 
"But we have a need. There's a demonstrated need in Williamstown. The story is a good one, and we're making a case to our funders that it should be fast-tracked."
 
Wolahan was congratulated for her group's efforts to develop a nearly 4-acre parcel that was donated by Williams College in June.
 
"You guys seem to be doing an unbelievable job racing against the clock," board member Stanley Parese said.
 
Wolahan said the town has a role to play in winning that race.
 
"Every dollar we bring in from the the town means we won't have to go and ask a competitive source of funds," she said. "It will expedite the process and solidify the funding package we're putting together.
 
"We need commitments of funding in order to make our complete application to the state for tax credit allocation. That's why I wanted to come to this meeting instead of your January meeting."
 
The three board members in attendance on Wednesday — Parese, Richard DeMayo and Chairman Thomas Sheldon — decided not to vote on Wolahan's request without input from absent board members Fred Puddester and Catherine Yamamoto. Sheldon indicated he would attempt to call a special meeting of the board before the end of the month to consider the request.
 
The Women's Institute and its partners are preparing an application for CPA funds in time to meet the Community Preservation Committee's Dec. 19 deadline. On Wednesday, Dec. 11, the consortium will hold a 7 p.m. listening session at Williamstown Elementary School to discuss specifics of the project and get feedback from community members.
 
On Tuesday, Dec. 10, the elementary school will also be the scene of a special town meeting, also at 7 p.m., to decide whether the town will OK the acquisition of the Spruces property under the terms of the $6.1 million FEMA grant.
 
In other business on Wednesday, the housing board discussed whether it should submit its own application for Community Preservation Act funds this year. The trust twice has been funded from CPA tax revenues: on its inception at town meeting in 2012 and again this past May.
 
Sheldon suggested that the trust seek funds to start a pilot program of acquiring and renovating existing one- or two-family homes in town, which the town either would rent or sell to income-qualified buyers with a deed restriction mandating the homes remain affordable.
 
"It would add to the affordable housing stock in town and complement the efforts of the Women's Institute consortium project, which is not going to be single-family homes," Sheldon said. "Whatever it is, it's not going to be single-family homes. This would be different from that and different from the [13 affordable housing] units at Cable Mills. ... All of that is more congregate housing."
 
DeMayo pointed out that such a purchase and rehabilitation project also would have a positive impact on the neighborhoods where poorly maintained houses stand.
 
Sheldon said the trust could explore grants and federal home loan programs to supplement CPA funds.
 
"It addresses another segment of the community," Sheldon said of the single-family rehabilitation idea. "Where the Higher Ground project is aimed at seniors, this could help a young family. Indeed, many of the folks who were at the Spruces may not be able to undertake what's involved in such a program."

Tags: affordable housing trust,   CPA,   Higher Ground,   senior housing,   

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