Harwich Housing Committee Annual Report 2014

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                                          2014 – Harwich Housing Committee Report                                  


    The Harwich Housing Committee(HHC) coordinating with the Harwich Housing Authority (HHA) is charged by the Board of Selectmen  (BOS) to work toward diverse solutions to address the Affordable Housing shortage in Harwich, and to continue making progress toward the 10% Affordable Housing goal recommended by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and adopted by the Town.


     Over the last decade, Harwich has moved closer to the 10% goal. In the year 2000, the Town had 5862 year round housing units with 214 Affordable units or 3.7%. By the year 2013, there were 6125 year round housing units, with 326 Affordable units or 5.3%. 


     In many ways, this has been a year of transition for the HHC.  In December of 2013, Committee member, Barbara Loftus, passed away. Gerry Loftus, the HHC chair for many years retired.  Barbara faithfully attended meetings, typed letters, reports and grant proposals. Gerry was relentless in the pursuit of creating a variety of Affordable Housing programs for Harwich. The HHC is still adjusting to the loss of their combined creativity and determination. The Committee is authorized to have five  members. Two new members have been appointed by the Selectmen.


    Now, with a full membership roster, HHC is examining its efforts and priorities. A renewed emphasis of the Committee will be to inform the public about the need for and the value of Affordable Housing through public meetings, newspaper columns, public access TV.  We stand ready to partner with neighborhoods and Affordable Housing developers to improve the quality of life in all areas of Town.  We also want to encourage developers to approach HHC with proposals so that we might help shape plans in accordance with Affordable Housing suitable for the needs of Harwich.


    The Housing Committee continues to create Affordable Housing programs and to monitor projects already in development.  These are:


1.  The American Dream I program (home ownership on town donated land) has been completed on three of the four Town designated sites by the Harwich Ecumenical Council for the Homeless (HECH) under the supervision of the HHA.  Contested property lines on the fourth site are not yet settled.


2.  The Buy-Down program (first time home ownership meeting affordable income criteria) involves a “grant” toward the purchase of an existing home with funds from the BOS's Affordable Housing Fund and Community Preservation Committee (CPC) grants approved at the 2010 and 2013 Town Meetings.  Three houses were purchased in the first round with funding still available for two more. This program is a joint effort of the HHC and HHA.


3.  HECH was working on an Affordable rental project at 93/97 Route 28 in West Harwich. This would have added about 20 much needed units to the Town's Affordable rental stock. In December 2014, the plans for the project were discontinued. Funds from HHA and the CPC are to be returned.


4.  HHC continued its attempt to have the Town move forward on property issues related to Affordable Housing.

     A) Funding for legal work in connection with some “unknown owners”  and land taking for “delinquent taxes” was the basis for the CPC article 9 of the May 2011 Special Town Meeting. To date there has been no expenditure of funds for this purpose.

    B) Town land on Willow Street designated for Affordable Housing by the 2001 Annual Town Meeting remains “in limbo” due to title problems and unresolved property line disputes with abutters.

    C) When Thankful Chase was built in North Harwich supplying 12 rental units, a nearby plot of land seemed ideal for developing Thankful Chase II. As the Town moved to take the land for the back taxes of an “unknown owner”, someone claiming ownership stepped forward. According to legal notices in the newspaper, the taxes have yet to be paid. If this land were to revert to the Town, it would provide an opportunity to build another attractive, environmentally friendly rental development.


5.  HHC has been interested in the East Harwich Village Initiative and the potential for the inclusion of Affordable Housing in its plan.


6.  Re-Purpose of the Middle School:  HHC has been involved in the public discussion about a new use of the Middle School.  It has recommended the building (or parts of the building) be used for Affordable rental units for Senior Housing with the inclusion of some Workforce units. The Committee also supports mixed use of the entire building which might include educational and civic purposes. Other communities on Cape Cod, such as Yarmouth, have sold surplus school buildings for Affordable and market rate rental housing which are increasingly in demand on Cape Cod.


7.  Habitat for Humanity is developing a new Affordable Housing project which will add 7 units to our  Affordable Housing Inventory. HHC was instrumental in connecting Habitat with the property owner interested in selling the land (1096 Oak Street Extension).  The Board of Selectmen voted to use the Affordable Housing Fund to provide funding toward the purchase of the 2+acre plot.  The 2014 Annual Town Meeting also voted to support a CPC grant. Infrastructure and foundations are now in place. Building with volunteer help is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2015.


8.  Harwich Cottages: A private developer planned to build 25 two bedroom “cottages” at 1369 Orleans Road in East Harwich with seven 40B Affordable units. Plans had to be revised due to septic issues. The new project reduces the number of units none of which will be Affordable.


9.  Rental Assistance: HHC continues to support the Rental Assistance program of the HHA with funding from CPC which has assisted 65 households to pay rent over a three year period.


As the above list suggests, much thought, planning and evaluation goes into the completion of an Affordable rental or home ownership project. HHC hopes to continue to advance new approaches, programs and projects in order to move forward to meet the goal of providing young workers, those in mid-life and seniors with safe, decent, attractive, affordable housing so that they may enjoy the benefits of living on Cape Cod and participating fully in the life of our community.


The Housing Committee acknowledges the cooperation of the Board of Selectmen, the Town Administrator's Office, together with the Planning Department. We have been grateful for the consistent  attendance at our meetings of Linda Cebula, the BOS liaison; David Spitz, the Town Planner; and John Stewart, the Executive Director of the Housing Authority.  We welcome citizen input and invite the public to attend our meetings on the first Monday of each month.


Respectfully submitted,

David Purdy,  Cindi Maule, Mayla Secola, John McGillen, Claudia Williams.