Guest speaker Joe Cloutier shared his perspective as a developer of affordable housing solutions for the workforce at a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Camden.
Cloutier, who co-founded Realty Resources Group and created many New England workforce housing communities, spoke to the club as part of its efforts to identify potential solutions to local economic challenges. Her presentation was the eighth in a monthly series on topics such as demographics, job training, workforce skills gaps and child care needs. In doing so, the club hopes to generate collaboration between leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors to improve the economic vitality of the region.
Cloutier began his speech by highlighting the need for housing that working families can afford: “A fundamental question facing communities is whether affordable housing is needed in the community. I know and I believe unequivocally that this is of crucial importance. He stressed the value of having health professionals, public safety officials and other workers close to their workplace and mentioned the added strength that the economy, education and ethnicity bring to a community.
“I think the creation of a substantial coalition actively engaged in the area of affordable housing is a very important first step,” said Cloutier. He added that a coalition should include affordable housing groups, home builders, business owners, the Chamber of Commerce, municipal government, service organizations and other stakeholders. The coalition could work in conjunction with a community land trust and perhaps seek grants to support new development.
When asked what the coalition’s priorities should be, Mr. Cloutier said working with a city to create an affordable housing recovery zone should come first: “It’s the vehicle that will reduce property costs. , construction costs and permit issues. Second, I think, is working with our congressional delegation to make changes to the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) subdivision program and provide more resources. Finally, he called for discussions with senators and representatives in Washington about more resources for affordable housing in general. “It hasn’t been done since the 1970s and 1980s. There is no strong lobby in Washington for affordable housing. I do not know why.
Cloutier described affordable housing overlap areas as potential solutions for coastal towns with high land value. The overlap areas allow for a higher density than what is currently allowed, allowing affordable homes to be interspersed in developed areas. He noted that new developments often have to include multiple affordable housing units to be approved in some states, such as Massachusetts. Recovery areas are often subsidized through progressive government tax financing (FIT) for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community improvement projects. There would be no charge for connection fees, sewer permits and impact fees.
He said overlay zoning is cheaper and less laborious than contract zoning, which applies to a specific development proposal. “Zoning contracts takes a lot of time and money to involve lawyers and engineers, whereas an affordable housing recovery zone could operate very easily and much cheaper,” Cloutier said.
But even with favorable zoning, the current costs of labor and materials make it difficult to build houses to buy at affordable prices. MSHA’s Community Development Block Grants and Subdivision Program, which offers loans and grants of up to $ 400,000, enable the development of up to 20 homes for families of two with incomes of up to $ 400,000. at $ 76,000 or $ 80,000 for four. However, the cost per house should not exceed $ 220,000, including infrastructure, landscaping, and the house itself.
“With the median price of homes in Camden at $ 429,000 and the cost of materials rising 15% over the past year, building a home for under $ 220,000 is an incredible challenge,” said Cloutier. He added that lobbying for higher caps on the cost of such homes could help, as could examining different construction techniques. Prefabricated housing would cost less than stick-built housing, so this is an avenue worth exploring. And 3D printing is on the horizon as a future possibility, producing the same effect as concrete that looks like traditional timber construction.
Another concern is infrastructure costs. Building in high density areas with existing water and sewage systems alleviates this problem. There are fees to extend water and sewer lines, but connecting to existing infrastructure costs much less than starting from scratch. Cloutier added that projects in small communities may require septic tanks and wells, a more complex process than building near existing infrastructure.
Ways to make housing affordable include family housing tax credits, and the MSHA first-time buyer program provides a 3.4% 30-year mortgage on a $ 220,000 home for qualified buyers. In addition, the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) encourages banks to provide beneficial financing for affordable housing.
Addressing resistance to affordable housing developments, Cloutier reiterated the benefits of providing housing for workers to buy. He said business owners who oppose these developments often change their minds when they recognize the value of allowing their employees to live in the community. And when a house is on fire, homeowners appreciate the proximity of firefighters and other public safety officers.
“Most of the opposition comes from a misunderstanding about the housing we offer,” Cloutier said. “You can’t overcome the problem if you move to a neighborhood that doesn’t want you. It’s typical Nimbyism (not in my garden) or NOPES (not on planet Earth). “But I think education and looking at what’s been done in the city can help. Camden has affordable housing, including many apartments that serve a great purpose in the community.
A recording of Cloutier’s lecture is available from the club’s recorded presentations library at https://www.camdenrotary.org. Recordings and papers from previous conferences and announcements of future speakers can also be found on the website.
The club welcomes visitors to its weekly meetings, which take place Tuesdays at noon on Zoom. Anyone wishing to attend can get login details from Stephanie Griffin: [email protected]