At a recent combined precinct 4 and 18 meeting, a representative of the Advisory and Finance Committee (A&F) represented that it did a complete 360 on its vote on [Town Meeting] Article 16C  – the “senior” affordable housing project for Redbrook – [from] initially unanimously against it to unanimously for it on a “revote” – because the project had “materially” changed essentially to an altogether different project.  Indeed, at this precinct meeting this was the fairytale pitched by A.D. Makepeace (ADM) to get taxpayer money to fund its affordable housing obligation.  In its handout that night to Town Meeting members, ADM represented that a “collaborative process resulted in numerous changes,” including relocation of the site “to alleviate neighbor concerns” (but that site change occurred before the first A&F meeting on the project), additional parking, and “unit count increase by 10 following conversations with local officials.”

ADM misrepresents that the changes make it essentially a different project and that there was a “collaborative process” with residents.  ADM only initially notified residents of its plan because this news outlet was about to publish a story last November that contained information about the project.  Further, any meaningful “collaboration” only occurred after local officials held ADM to task for not doing just that after residents organized and disrupted the sanctity of their lives by appearing at every meeting possible (before the Community Preservation Committee [CPC], Planning Board, Selectboard, and Affordable Housing Trust, and A&F) to be heard. The process has been totally rushed.

The May 23, 2019, Memorandum of Understanding between the town and ADM states that ADM “will construct affordable units at a minimum proportionate rate at ten percent of the market rate units constructed … within each twelve-month construction cycle.”  It further provides that “The building Inspector shall not issue any building permit until he or she has obtained confirmation from the planning department that the developer “is in compliance with its obligations to construct affordable units hereunder” (emphasis added). Currently, there are only 15 affordable units (apartments) at Redbrook and there are empty apartments and vacant lots, yet between 700-800 building permits have issued for market rate homes. There has been no answer from any town official (despite being asked) on why there has been no public accountability for the failure of ADM and town officials to comply with the MOU.  Why not?  And this misfeasance is why ADM must play “catch up.” But make no mistake, ADM’s motive is not altruistic. Rather, it wants the cheapest way out of the bulk of its affordable housing obligation, namely, having it funded on the taxpayer’s hard-earned dime (CPC money which is derived from a surcharge on a resident’s real estate tax bill).

The use of CPC funds to fund over half of a private developer’s affordable housing obligation is not palatable.  ADM stated publicly before the town that even though it could provide a “deep level of affordability,” by charging less in rent, it is “choosing” not to and wants taxpayer money, CPC funds, instead to lower prices, all the while ADM is not providing any cash at hand and makes 1 percent off every Redbrook resale (last year, there were about $15 million in resales). What ADM does not state is that to get the state taxpayer money (roughly $20 million), the levels of “deeper affordability” are required. There lie the true intentions. Further, ADM has threatened town officials and Redbrook residents with 40B housing if this article does not pass. That is hardly good faith “collaboration.” And that housing will be much larger than the elderly housing proposed, yet neither of what is proposed or threatened is in keeping with what the residents of Redbrook were promised when buying their homes, namely a traditional rural village development (TRVD) with (save assisted living which never came to be) affordable housing dispersed throughout all the neighborhoods of Redbrook, not a high-density, gargantuan building warehousing affordable housing; not a dense and overbuilt center like at Pinehills.

If Town Meeting Members approve the article (as is or in part with less funding), what precedent will be set for subsidizing private developers’ affordable housing obligations?  What other CPC projects, including other affordable housing projects that will move the needle much further for the town on the subsidized housing inventory (SHI) count, will not get funded because no or not enough money is left?  What historic restoration and preservation will have to be tabled for years?  What debt will be incurred by the town, as there is no limit for CPC borrowing, and what will that cost the town?

The only change to the financial landscape between the first vote of A&F and the “re-vote” was the addition of an extra 10 affordable units with “no additional Town funding.” But ADM has long been obligated by the special permit it signed back in 2008 to provide 103 units of affordable housing in exchange for getting the zoning changed so that it could make money developing the land now known as Redbrook! In addition, the extra ten units does nothing to materially move the needle for the town to satisfy the ten percent affordable goal on its SHI “count.”  So, what really motivated A&F? We may never know.

Kimberly Karass

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