Christina Wilgren is a drum major for affordable housing opportunities in the town.
A member of the town Housing Partnership since 2004, she is a tireless advocate for expanding the inventory of government-managed units.
Wilgren presented and explained five innovative ideas for expanded affordable housing at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Community Preservation Committee. And although none of them was added to the fiscal 2022 preservation plan, fellow committee members were open-minded about longer-term prospects.
Affordable housing is one of the statutory pillars of community preservation expenses (open space, recreation, and historic preservation are the others.)
Proposals for assistance through community preservation funding were:
1. Grants to make one or more accessory dwelling units part of the town’s affordable housing inventory. Wilgren explained that the money could incentivize homeowners to construct the units and sell them with deed restrictions to buyers who meet eligibility criteria. “This could create opportunities for elders who are renting but still feel housing insecurity,” Wilgren said. She added that perhaps students from Shawsheen Valley Vocational High School could build one.
It was pointed out that the detached dwellings are not legal yet – they will be on the spring town meeting warrant. Select Board member Margot Fleischman said she would like to see a model from other towns. Planning Board member Shawn Hanegan pointed out that the dwellings “could be cost-prohibitive.” But the committee agreed to consider the concept for its six-year plan.
2. Purchase of property for donation to Habitat for Humanity. This is based on a model from the mid-2000s that resulted in the construction of several Habitat houses on Carter Way off North Road. Wilgren noted that the land cost the town $600,000. Amy Fidalgo, Assistant Town Manager, said the planning director suggests identifying an available property first and then preparing a proposal for town meeting.
3. Grants for the preservation of modest homes. Wilgren said this would provide a way to keep small houses in the inventory instead of losing them to teardowns and new construction. The money could assist a qualified buyer with a purchase price buydown, she said, or the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust could maintain a pool of smaller houses as affordable; new owners would not have the equity to make repairs and address other issues, “A lot of these projects sound like they would need a full-time housing staff person to manage them,” Fidalgo observed.
4. Wilgren proposed community preservation grants to promote matching between older residents with space available at home and persons in need of housing who could provide chores or other tasks in exchange. Wilgren pointed out that many people can’t even afford local housing designated as affordable because the rents are based on regional income levels. Perhaps a local church could be the responsible entity to broker such arrangements, she said. Fleischman suggested further research through the director of the Council on Aging. “She may have a feel for demand and feasibility.”
5. Wilgren recommended dedicating a portion of annual community preservation receipts to the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust for future use. “One of the benefits is amassing enough money to do something on shorter notice, to meet needs when they arrive,” she explained. Fidalgo pointed out a state ruling that would require that money to be spent only on CPA projects.
Fleischman said this resembles the land acquisition fund, which is held in anticipation of previously-approved sites becoming available. She also said that perhaps funding could be used to recharge the trust’s small-grants program for eligible house repairs.
The Select Board member suggested scheduling a “summit meeting” with the preservation committee and the housing trust “for a more robust and dynamic back-and-forth on what might be possible.”
Steve Hagan, the Conservation Commission representative on the preservation committee, pointed out that resources are more limited than they used to be because of reduced state matching funds. That means “crisp, shorter-term” projects get prioritized.,
Wilgren acknowledged that none of her ideas was targeted for the upcoming preservation plan, which will be the subject of a public hearing Thursday at 7 pm.
Committee Chair Lauren Crews, representing the Bedford Housing Authority, applauded Wilgren’s efforts. “You really put together some strong proposals. There are a lot of details to be worked through but you have laid the groundwork for some excellent ideas, and we appreciate your passion and research.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763
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