The Affordable Accessory Apartment Program is a public/private partnership between individual homeowners and the town whereby homeowners rent accessory apartments to tenants who earn 60–80 percent of the area’s media income, Lincoln Housing Coalition member Pamela Gallup explained at last week’s State of the Town meeting. (The Housing Coalition is a collaboration among the Housing Commission, the Affordable Housing Trust and the Lincoln Foundation.)
Homeowners would have an incentive: a loan of up to $25,000 from the town to create or renovate an accessory apartment. The loan would secured by a lien on the property but would not contingent on the homeowner’s income, and it would have to be repaid in full when the house is sold. The property would also have a 15-year deed restriction, although it could be terminated with 60 days’ notice at the end of a tenant’s leaser term. In addition, the homeowner would get a property tax exemption for the accessory-apartment portion of the house.
To qualify under the program, each affordable accessory apartment must have a separate entrance and off-street parking, and must not exceed 1,200 square feet or 35 percent of the home’s square footage. Prospective landlords would also have to submit certified architectural plans and demonstrate that their septic system is adequate. After receiving a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, they would have to select tenants from a waiting list of those who applied to the town.
The goal of the program is to create 10 new affordable accessory apartments that qualify for inclusion on the town’s subsidized housing inventory before the 2020 census. Ten percent of every Massachusetts town’s housing must be affordable, and Lincoln is currently at 10.9 percent. Gallup said. That figure is projected to fall to 10.08 percent by 2020. If the ratio falls below 10 percent, developers would be allowed to build affordable housing without following the town’s zoning rules on density, setback, height, etc.
Qualifying income limits for tenants range from $38,363 to $51,150 for a single person and $54,788 to $73,050 for a family of four. Fair market rent as calculated by the federal government for Lincoln would be $1,029–$1,372 per month for a one-bedroom unit.
The program would have the advantages of spreading affordable housing throughout the town, creating a source of income for homeowners, and providing housing options for town employees, single people and young families, Gallup said.
Lincoln currently has about 70 known permitted accessory apartments and an unknown number of unpermitted units. If some owners of those units converted their apartments to meet state guidelines and got special permits, the town could increase its affordable housing inventory without any new construction.
The town itself owns and manages seven units of affordable housing, though there are also privately owned units in Lincoln Woods and The Commons.
Resident Tom Sander suggested that the town collect loan repayments before the house is sold so some of the money can be reinvested in the program. He also suggested prioritizing homeowner applications according to how close they are to the train station, making it more attractive for commuter tenants.
In answer to an audience question, Gallup said renters must re-verify their income with the town each year to remain qualified for the apartments; if their income rises above the guidelines, they have 18 months to move out.
For the program to go forward, residents must approve three things at Town Meeting in March: amendments to the accessory apartment bylaw to conform with state Department of Housing and Community Development rules, creating the homeowner property tax exemption, and allocating Capital Planning Committee funds for the loan program.
“There’s absolutely no downside for the town in going into this program, as far as I can see,” said former Planning Board member Bob Domnitz.