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Housing Authority, Planning Board meet to discuss accessory apartments

Date: 4/12/2010

April 12, 2010

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- A joint meeting between the Housing Authority and the Planning Board last week led to a tentative partnership between the two groups to focus on affordable housing, and accessory apartments in particular, in town.

Ed Kline, chair of the Longmeadow Housing Authority, explained that since its founding in 1985, the authority has had a goal of providing affordable housing in town. Thanks to the Community Preservation Act (CPA), over $100,000 is available for affordable housing projects and this past year, the authority used some of those funds for a Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) study on different ideas that could be implemented.

"If you see some plans you like, we'd like you to work with us [to achieve them]," Kline told the Planning Board.

Jayne Armington, housing and land use planner for the PVPC, presented an overview of the draft study. She noted that Longmeadow is currently made up of 4.6 percent affordable housing and that the state has a 10 percent goal in each municipality. "It would require a lot more units to be built," she said. "It's doable, but it could take a long time."

Rebecca Townsend, a member of the Housing Authority, added that more affordable housing could also mean modifying existing structures, not only building new ones.

Armington said the Housing Authority is looking for the Planning Board's support in several areas if they are to move forward with any plans -- proving affordable housing is available through an inclusionary zoning bylaw, which would allow accessory apartments (also known as in-law apartments) on existing homes, providing subsidies for future developments and possibly revising minimum lot size requirements.

She explained accessory apartments, to be considered affordable housing, would need to be rented in a fair and open way and that renters' income can be up to 80 percent of the town's median income.

The Planning Board tried to pass an accessory apartment bylaw about 15 years ago but it was turned down at Town Meeting.

"We agree with the need for more housing for those with low incomes and the elderly," Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn stated. "Step one is to gain approval for the accessory apartment bylaw and then we could provide information on how they could become considered affordable housing.

"I think times are different from the first time the in-law apartment issue was raised," Gunn continued. "I think people would be more open to the idea now."

"It would be nice to help our community and be proactive instead of reactive [with the accessory apartment issue]," Townsend said.

Gunn said at the meeting he felt like the Housing Authority was presenting "a pretty simple request" and that he felt positively about supporting it in a timely manner.

In addition to the Planning Board's assistance with the bylaw issues, the Housing Authority is also considering publicizing existing resources, building relationships with other boards and non-profits and establishing a housing rehabilitation program (currently under consideration with CPA funding) top priorities.

"The CPA is going to be critical to this [affordable housing plan] long-term," Gunn commented.

The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for May 5 at 7 p.m. in the Police Station Meeting Room..