Chilmark officials wrestle with housing guidelines used to qualify applicants
A $50,000 asset limit for affordable housing applicants is too low, several potential applicants told the Chilmark housing committee last Thursday. The comments came at a hearing on implementation guidelines for all the town's affordable housing projects.
The proposed amended guidelines are for the homesite housing bylaw that applies to all affordable housing sites in the town. New guidelines for qualifications for rental housing were also presented at the hearing.
Most of the 25 in attendance were young couples or individuals who had done some homework on obtaining mortgages. They said the asset limit, the total of all of a potential homeowner's liquid assets, would prohibit most of them from obtaining mortgages.
Chilmark police officer Jeff Day, who has been on the affordable housing list for five years, was one of the most vocal. "Where did you come up with the $50,000?" he asked the committee. "It seems restrictive to the applicants. It's hard to get a bank to pre-approve for an unknown amount."
Mr. Day said the amount should be increased also to avoid mortgage insurance requirements. The $50,000 limit would allow a person to qualify for only a $235,000 mortgage, he said. "You shouldn't penalize people who have been putting away for a purchase like this," he added.
Housing committee chairman Steven Schwab said the committee spent a lot of time debating the asset limit, a figure that has been used as part of the applicant qualifying documentation for several years by other affordable housing agencies.
David L. Vigneault, Dukes County Regional Housing Authority executive director, backed up Mr. Schwab, saying the $50,000 limit is "pretty standard" and has been used for a several years. He said mortgages have been awarded for 21 affordable homes on the Island in the past 10 years using that limit.
Jennifer Wlodyka, another interested applicant, said she knows from going to a bank that a mortgage applicant has to show a significant amount of assets in order to get a loan. "They want you to be able to show you can pay the mortgage," she said.
Mr. Day added that the $50,000 limit is also too low if a person has to pay for a lot as well as house construction. "It sounds like you haven't involved the banks, based on the restrictions," he told the committee.
Another resident suggested the limit should be $150,000 for everyone applying for the housing, as it is for people 55 and older.
When approved, the guidelines will apply to all designated affordable housing in the town, individual lots as well as the Middle Line housing project that is now under way. Homesite housing lots may be less than three acres, but not less than one acre and must be approved by the planning board.
Selectman Warren Doty, the board's representative on the Middle Line affordable housing project, pointed out that the town will own the lots in the Middle Line Road project and lease them to homeowners for what is expected to be a low amount. The cap purchase price for an affordable housing lot is $40,000.
Ashley Bruce of Chilmark asked about the implications of reselling one of the affordable homes after it was purchased.
Mr. Schwab said a person could sell the property at affordable prices with a three percent per year escalation. "We want it to stay in the affordable housing pool," he said.
The housing committee members said they were open to the residents' suggestions for the guidelines.
Andrew Goldman, a housing committee member who has been drawing up the guidelines, said Tuesday the committee will do some homework at the banks on the liquid asset issue. He also explained the requirements for applicants to qualify for the affordable housing pool, saying that the first preference would be given to people who have lived, worked, or volunteered in Chilmark for five years. Individuals may put their name in the lottery for each of the three preference categories.
If unallocated homesite lots remain following the first lottery, a second lottery will give preference to others living on Martha's Vineyard, and a third lottery would be for all eligible purchasers.
Mr. Doty suggested that the three drawings be done simultaneously to develop a larger list of applicants in the event some people do not qualify for mortgages or have to drop out of the pool for other reasons.
Mr. Schwab said the committee will meet only once or twice more to consider comments from the hearing and review the guidelines before sending them to the selectmen for approval. The selectmen may accept the guidelines or amend them. The committee will also accept comments on the guidelines before its next meeting on Monday.
Mr. Goldman also gave an update on the Middle Line Road housing project. He said the Middle Line Road implementation committee is in the final stages of drawing up a subdivision plan. That plan will be submitted to the town planning board and then to the Martha's Vineyard Commission. He said he hopes the infrastructure on the project can begin in the spring.
The earliest date for the Middle Line Road applicant selection would be mid-March, Mr. Goldman said, adding that he hopes the house lots will all be awarded at once, along with the six rental units. He said he and the committee "want to make the maximum applicants available as quickly as possible."
Mr. Schwab said a separate set of guidelines will be drawn up for the Middle Line Road housing project that will overlay the general guidelines presented last Thursday. The entire Middle Line Road project must be approved at a town meeting. The affordable housing guidelines were first approved in March 2003 and have been amended twice since then.
"We have supported this all along and we're all here," Mr. Doty said. "We're committed and we're going to move it along as fast as we can."