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Affordable housing fund gives developers options

SALEM — Selectmen have approved a trust fund to help establish additional affordable senior housing units in town.

Under the town’s Planning Board ordinance and zoning regulations, developers in the senior housing overlay district are required to either build 10 percent of a development’s units as affordable, or make a donation to a local housing trust which can then be used to fund the development of affordable units in the future.

“There have been a couple of these payments in the past, and they have always gone into the Salem Housing Authority, which does develop affordable senior housing,” said Assistant Town Manager Leon Goodwin. “We learned recently that they don’t actually have a separate trust for that purpose.”

The money deposited into the trust fund will be used at some point in the future when projects come forward and expenditures can be made out of the trust fund.

Selectmen unanimously approved establishing the trust fund, but did request that Goodwin provide further information in the near future about how much money has already been donated to the town for affordable units and whether that money corresponds with the number of affordable units that could have been created by developers in the senior overlay district.

Selectman James Keller said the planning and zoning regulations allowing for the donations are fairly recent, and so far there have been two developments that have chosen to donate money to a housing trust rather than build the units themselves.

“Originally, the Planning Board wanted to set aside 10 percent of the units and the housing authority would administer and occupy those units,” said Keller. “The problem is that the economics didn’t work for the builders or the housing authority, so we had a situation where we had a project where the housing authority could not fill the units, so they were sitting dormant.”

Because the project owner was also restricted in how it could use those units, it asked the Planning Board whether there was a way the town could get essentially the same value for the affordable units by making the donation to the housing authority.

“That was presuming that the amount of money the housing authority had would reach a point where they could take advantage of it to build additional units to get occupied,” Keller said.Selectman Stephen Campbell said he would like to see the amount of money that has been brought in through the ordinance and what’s been done with that money.“If we’re going to create this trust fund, and I’m not opposed to that, I want to understand what the rules are,” Campbell said.

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