Swampscott requests $300,000 for veterans housing

Swampscott is considering a number of capital improvement projects. (Item File Photo: Owen O'Rourke)

SWAMPSCOTT — The Select Board voted unanimously to request $300,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust, which will be used to acquire the 12-24 Pine Street property for future use as veterans’ affordable housing, on Wednesday.

Town Meeting voted to approve the town’s acquisition of the property in order to develop 20 to 30 affordable-housing units for veterans in May. Since then, Swampscott has put out a request for proposals to redevelop the lot.

Select Board Chair David Grishman said the town was able to execute an extension of the property’s purchase until mid-December. 

“Every month, it costs the town more money to be able to get that extension, but we decided it was worthwhile and important to have that extension,” Grishman said. 

Grishman added that after months of discussing the funding of the land acquisition with Affordable Housing Trust Chair Kimberly Martin-Epstein, he believes there is “a widely held expectation” that the trust will contribute $300,000 to the purchase of 12-24 Pine St.

“I think it’s an incredible use of their money because if we’re doing 30 units, it subsidizes only $10,000 per unit, which is amazing. That $300,000 is going to create a lot of units,” Grishman said.

The proposed agreement, however, comes less than three weeks after the trust voted to take on the Pitman House’s relocation from Pittman Road to Hillside Avenue for future development as affordable housing. 

The Pitman House project, estimated to cost the trust $330,000, sparked a heated debate among its members, with some arguing that the project is far too expensive given the trust’s current $603,000 in total funding.

“I’m appalled. To put at risk $330,000 of Affordable Housing Trust funds is ridiculous and this is not a budget with sources — the only source is the Affordable Housing Trust funds,” AHT member Joan Honig said during an AHT meeting Aug. 21.

Select Board Member Peter Spellios referenced the Pitman House funding as a cause for concern. He said given the trust’s commitment to spend more than half of its funds on the Pitman project, it is imperative that the board secure the $300,000 before selecting a developer’s bid in December.

“There’s a lot of conversation about how they’re using their funds and they’re looking to use up to $300,000 to create two units somewhere else,” Spellios said. “I’m confused by that math, but if the trust wants to do that, that’s great. I just want to make sure if they’re going to spend $300,000 on two units, that the other $300,000 they have is coming over here.”

Select Board member Doug Thompson, who serves as the board’s AHT liaison, responded to Spellios’ concerns, mentioning that he did not believe the funding itself would be a problem. He added that the town would likely have to present a detailed project outline to the AHT before the trust would consider funding the acquisition.

“I have had experience over the last month or two about the level of scrutiny that the Affordable Housing Trust brings to bear for requests. I don’t know if a simple request to $300,000 without further details will be sufficient,” Thompson said.

Before the board voted to approve the request, which Grishman said the AHT would likely discuss at its next meeting, Grishman addressed Thompson and Spellios’ concerns. He added that since the project is a boilerplate affordable-housing development in return for a tax incentive, the AHT should already have a relatively thorough understanding of how it will unfold.

“The good news is this is truly a down the middle of the fairway affordable housing tax credit deal. Kim (Martin-Epstein) is going to be intuitively aware of the finances and the typical stacking of sources and uses involved,” Grishman said.

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