For the majority of articles being brought before the Belmont Town Meeting tonight, Monday, May 5, the Warrant Committee and the Board of Selectmen are of one mind; they will be nodding in sync approvingly with nearly all the proposals facing the approximate 300 representatives.
But there is one article where the two groups have decided to take diverging paths on the Community Preservation Committee’s $375,000 grant to the Belmont Housing Trust’s first-time homebuyer’s proposal.
The plan will help three homebuyers – it would target those making less than 80 percent of the area median household income which is approximately $92,000 – to lower their mortgages by approximately $125,000 each to make them affordable. In return, the three units will remain affordable “in perpetuity” due to a deed restriction that limits the amount the homeowner can receive in a resale.
“There are six units of this same housing in Belmont, on Oakley and B Street,” noted Gloria Leipzig, the Housing Trust’s vice chair at a Warrant Briefing meeting in April.
While the Warrant Committee – which is the Town Meeting’s financial watchdog – voted overwhelmingly against the plan by 10-3 in April, the Belmont Board of Selectmen, in a two to one vote, will be supporting the proposal when it comes before the Town Meeting likely at Monday’s first night.
The disagreement between backers of the Housing Trust’s initiative and those opposed is not based on support of affordable housing as all members believe that Belmont should push to increase the supply of this housing – Belmont has about 300 units or 3.8 percent of the total housing stock.
Rather it’s the approach the Housing Trust hopes to use to increase affordable housing that has come under fire. According to several Warrant Committee members and Selectman Sami Baghdady, using nearly $400,000 to move a limited number of people into moderate-rate housing is simply not cost effective.
With Belmont nearly 600 units away from reach the state’s goal of 10 percent affordability in housing (which will also prohibit developers from using the Chapter 40B law allowing developers of affordable housing to override most town zoning bylaws and other requirements), the money would better be spent as part of a larger expenditure to build a great number of units or on other causes.
“[The Community Preservation Act] is all tax money and it shouldn’t be used as a slush fund” for ineffective programs, said Baghdady at a May 1 Selectmen’s meeting.
Supporters of the CPA request contend that any increase in housing is better than staying pat on this societal problem.
“Our goal is to increase the number of affordable housing in Belmont, just to show the state we are trying to meet its requirements,” said Leipzig.
For Selectman Mark Paolillo, the realization that the town may “never” meet the 10 percent goal doesn’t mean that the town should seek the perfect at the expense of doing nothing.
“It’s not perfect but I support the concept,” said Paolillo.
“We need to show our commitment to affordability and this is a fairly easy way to do it,” said Selectmen’s chair Andy Rojas.
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