Watertown took a major step this week toward creating more affordable housing by starting the effort to create an affordable housing trust and looking into charging fees to new developments that would go toward affordable housing.
Tuesday night, the Town Council voted unanimously to move forward with writing an ordinance that would create the Watertown Affordable Housing Trust, and would dissolve the Watertown Housing Partnership. The Council also approved a study of creating linkage fees for new commercial developments for affordable housing.
The Trust would work to create and preserve housing for low- and moderate-income households. Among its powers the Trust would be able to receive properties as donations or gifts, and to buy and sell property.
The effort to develop more affordable housing in Watertown has been a long effort. The Council’s Human Services Committee has been studying the issue for more than four years. Councilor Tony Palomba, who chairs the Human Services Committee, thanked those who helped with the effort.
“It’s great to see this come to fruition. It’s taken quite a while,” Palomba said. “I also echo (other councilors’ remarks) and appreciate the Watertown Housing Partnership and Mr. (Larry) Fields, Watertown’s Housing Planner at the Department of Community Development and Planning. He and the Partnership have been wonderful to work with, and have taken on the recommendations of the Human Services Committee a couple years ago and have done a wonderful job.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris thanked Palomba and others on the committee for all the work they put in, and commended him for his patience and diligence.
“Kudos to everyone who was involved. We took our time, but it looks like we got it done,” Sideris said before the vote.
Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said he heard from a number of residents at the Faire on the Square who were concerned about the increasing cost of housing in Watertown. The steps taken Tuesday will help address that.
“The creation of the Affordable Housing Trust is one of the most important steps we are doing in the community to actually build more affordable housing,” Piccirilli said. “By creating the Trust, we will be able to purchase land and build projects that we weren’t able to do before. It really gives the Town of Watertown some incredible powers to build afford housing in Watertown.”
Councilor John Gannon said the Affordable Housing Trust will be able to combine its efforts with other sources of money for affordable housing, such as the Community Preservation Funds.
“Combined housing funds will allow Watertown to combine and build projects on a bigger scale,” Gannon said. “I want to thank members of the Watertown Housing Partnership for their efforts and I look forward to working with members of the new Watertown Housing Trust and actually creating affordable housing by Watertown and hopefully with preference for Watertown residents.”
The Board of Trustees for the Trust would have seven members, including the Town Manager. The other members would be appointed by the Town Manager to two-year terms. The Trustees must live in Watertown and will be made up of “a group of diverse residents who have relevant experience in the fields of real estate, housing, banking, finance, law, architecture, community planning and/or similar areas of expertise relating to the creation and preservation of affordable housing,” according to the draft Affordable Housing Trust ordinance.
The Trust could also get funds from new commercial developments if the Town creates linkage fees. The new businesses in the developments attract new employees who may not be able to live in Watertown due to the cost of housing, according to the Human Service Committee report. To create the linkage fee, a Home Rule Petition will likely have to be created by the Town, approved by the State Legislature, and signed by the governor. The effort would cost an estimated $50,000 and take between four to six months to get final approval. The Council’s vote requested that the Town administration conduct a study of creating the affordable housing linkage fee.
At future meetings, the Human Service Committee will continue looking at affordable housing issues and discuss the possibility of creating a community preference for affordable housing. The Town can set aside a certain percentage of affordable units for people who live or work in town. The maximum is 70 percent, but the Watertown Housing Partnership and town Department of Community Development and Planning recommends setting it at 50 percent.