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Non-profit developer starts construction on 15 units in Westford

Posted on January 28, 2005

(Note: Since this news release was written, this project has been completed and is pictured at right. This project is an example of how MHP works with towns and housing authorities to create affordable housing. It's also an example of how towns can use Community Preservation Act funds to support affordable housing. Click here for details on how Westford used CPA for this and other projects).

WESTFORD --- The town’s effort to increase its supply of affordable housing took a major step forward today when a ceremony was held marking the beginning of construction of 15 units of affordable rental housing for families.

The groundbreaking featured the dedication of the effort to the memory of the late William D. Coakley, who died last September. He was active in the town’s affordable housing efforts as a member of the housing authority, the town’s affordable housing committee and the Community Preservation Committee.

Also announced was over $3 million in state support from the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership.

The housing will be developed by the Common Ground Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Community Teamwork Inc. of Lowell, a non-profit community action agency serving the Merrimack Valley and parts of the North Shore.

"Our mission is to develop affordable housing by forging partnerships," said Steve Joncas, Chief Executive Officer of Common Ground. "This is an example of extraordinary commitment and partnership among CTI, the town of Westford, and the financial supporters of this project.”

When complete, the development will feature seven two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom apartments. Five of the units will be affordable for households making 50 percent of median income; five at 65 percent of median income; and five at 100 percent of median income.

“This is the first affordable housing effort on town-owned land that’s ever been done,” said Chris Pude, director of the Westford Housing Authority. “It proves we can do it.”
 
Westford gave Common Ground Development Corporation a 99-year lease to own and develop part of a 150-acre tract. It also appropriated $250,000 from funds it collected through the Community Preservation Act to prepare the site for development.

A former sand and gravel yard, the town envisioned that this site be used for affordable housing when it purchased the property in 1994. A subsequent master plan in 2000 called for the creation of a village-like concept that would include residential development, educational facilities and recreational open space. The village concept is in keeping with the town’s history of being organized around mills in villages named Graniteville, Nabnasset and Forge. A new middle school and athletic fields have already been built on the Stony Brook site.

The project is being built under the town’s flexible development bylaw. Common Ground’s Joncas said the apartment buildings will be of a barn-like, colonial design, in keeping with Westford’s character.

Andrea Peraner-Sweet, vice chair of the planning board and co-chair of the affordable housing committee, said the housing will begin to address the town’s affordable housing needs. “Rental housing for families is sorely lacking and this is a great start at meeting the need,” she said. “This has been 11 years in the making and it’s a credit to all the town boards and the committees who saw the need for affordable housing and took the steps to do something about it.” 

This is the first of three affordable housing efforts developed through the state’s Suburban Rental Pilot program. Offered by Massachusetts Housing Partnershp (MHP) and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the program is aimed at developing affordable rental housing on a smaller scale in suburban and smaller towns.

DHCD has allocated $1 million in federal HOME funds to the effort.  MHP is committing $1.3 million in long-term first-mortgage financing, and another $750,000 in zero-interest, deferred payment second-mortgage financing to the project developer. The construction loan is being provided by the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC).

MHP, a statewide-public/non-profit organization, uses private bank funds to provide loans for affordable rental housing. It also provides communities with early technical assistance that can determine whether an affordable housing proposal is feasible. In the suburban pilot program, MHP helped Westford on the transfer of the land to the developer.

“MHP shepherded us through this process,” said Pude.

Rita Farrell, MHP’s Director of Community Housing Initiatives, helped conceptualize the pilot program and indicated that other towns are in position to work with private developers to create affordable housing.

“What we learned from this pilot is that there are towns like Westford that have the will to do housing, and often have land that is perfectly positioned for the development of affordable housing,” said Farrell.