WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Affordable Housing Committee voted to approve a rent increase at the Church Corner apartments and were updated on their housing needs assessment at Tuesday night's meeting.
"This is the first request for rent increase, so there's no real procedure yet," Chairwoman Cathy Yamamoto said.
Church Corner Managing Partner David Carver said the request follows a property reassessment that raised real estate taxes, meaning Church Corner must pay the town about $67 more a month per unit.
Carver said that in the meantime, Church Corner LLC applied for an abatement for lower property taxes, and tenants were notified in the fall there was a pending rent increase.
Church Corner apartments, which accepted its first tenants in 2010, repurposed the former St. Raphael Church and neighboring rectory, turning them into eight units of affordable housing. The project was initiated by the AHC, which partnered with Scarafoni Associates of North Adams as the management company to form the nonprofit Church Corner LLC. Scarafoni Associates then turned the church and rectory into affordable housing using funding from the town, federal funds and its own capital.
Rent is determined by the income of and the size of each household, Yamamoto said, per guidelines from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Initially, the committee hesitated in motioning to approve the rent increase. Member Bilal Ansari said he'd like to see residents from the apartments at a meeting to discuss their feelings on the matter.
But members ultimately agreed the increase was reasonable, since every renter would still pay less than 30 percent of their income in rent, the maximum percentage of income HUD recommends people spend on housing. The committee voted unanimously to approve the request for an average rent increase of $38 per unit, effective March 1.
In other business, the committee held a discussion with John Ryan of Development Cycles, a consultant contracted to perform a housing needs assessment for the town.
Ryan said he has already collected much of the demographic and economic data he needs, but turned to the committee to learn who they think should be served and what exactly is "affordable."
"What's true for affordable housing in Williamstown can seem very different than North Adams, Boston or anywhere else," he said.
Ryan said during his research, he learned several things about the town's affordable housing need. In addition, the town has seen a dramatic increase in renters paying more than recommended for housing based on their income. A general rule of thumb is a renter should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing a month, he said. In addition, the town has seen significant declines in rental households over the past decade, with fewer households with children.
"The town is becoming more of a retirement community," he said.
Committee member Van Ellet said he was happy to see Ryan identified three separate groups that the committee wants to address, those being families with children, the elderly and the special needs population.
Ryan will be at the AHC's April 16 meeting, where he will present his final written report to the committee.
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