Executive Director Jim Middleton and Development Director Amy Belmore of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plymouth attended the virtual meeting of the Plympton Board of Selectmen on Monday, Jan. 25. Middleton provided some background into the locally based volunteer organization which is headquartered in Carver. With only five paid employees, the organization relies on the 200 to 300 volunteers who assist in all phases of work being done. Initially founded by ministers from Plympton, they serve Plymouth, Kingston, Middleborough, Lakeville, and the towns in between. Work includes building and fixing up existing houses as well as running the ReStore on Route 58 in Carver. Proceeds from the thrift shop assist with the work being done by Habitat.
Middleton explained that where a typical home in a local community might cost upwards of $350,000 to $450,000, a home built by Habitat for Humanity can be sold well below market value for say $170,000. Middleton also pointed out that oftentimes rentals of similar size can cost approximately $2,000 per month. “A lot of people who live in a town like Plympton they can’t afford to stay there,” Middleton said. He explained that a number of factors go into keeping their costs low. “We’re able to do that by having volunteers and community minded people who help us with the trades, like electric, and also with materials.”
Middleton said that the organization is always looking for land to build on as they can’t afford to pay market rates. Whenever possible Habitat tries to purchase land in partnership with towns. This is done by looking at the Assessor’s list to see if there are properties that are under utilized that the town may be able to make available. Of the 12 houses built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plymouth only one was through donation of land alone. “All of our houses go through DHCD [The Department of Housing and Community Development] at the state to get certified and to make sure that there is a deed writer on it and that there is a regulatory agreement… to keep that house as an affordable home in perpetuity,” Middleton explained. He said when no waivers are required for a plot of land the process is simplified and likened it to a joint application with the town and Habitat to the state. If waivers are required the town can, through a hearing, apply to build on a plot of land that might not otherwise be buildable.
Middleton also explained the process for selecting eligible families. He said there tends to be a misconception that it is a giveaway program but said it is “a hand up not a handout.” The state has a lottery which is income qualified. Habitat considers those whose incomes fall within 30 to 60 percent of the area’s median income. Middleton said, “The state likes a lottery but Habitat likes to look at the current living situation of a family and factor that in… it’s a blind process where our Family Selection Committee of volunteers go and visit each of the income qualified families and they look at overcrowding, sub-standard health and safety conditions, whether the people are paying way too much money out of their monthly incomes to be in that house.” From there, three families are usually presented to Habitat’s Board of Directors who select a family without being given names or other identifying information. Middleton and Belmore confirmed that towns can give a higher priority to those that live or work within their town though other factors will also be considered.
Even with the below market value on the homes, families that are selected still pay a mortgage. Mortgages are 0 interest over thirty years. “A young family trying to start out can get a house that costs them less than $1,000 a month all in for their mortgage, their taxes, and their home insurance,” Middleton told the Selectmen. Selectman Mark Russo asked if there was continued control of the home once sold or if the control was relinquished to the new homeowners. “They become the owners but there is a deed restriction that is quite detailed that says if they want to resell, they can’t sell at market rate,” Middleton explained. The owners would be able to recoup their money plus a bit for inflation.
Selectman John Traynor asked if there was an age requirement as it seemed the homes being discussed were geared toward younger families. Middleton said that because the homes that are built tend to be three-bedroom homes, usually capes, they tend to be filled with families as it is a requirement that all bedrooms be filled. Russo asked if they had explored the possibility of building duplexes or townhouses. Middleton said, “We haven’t done that but we’re wide open to doing that.” Belmore pointed out the affordability issue for older members of the community including retirees. She said that finding affordable housing for seniors could be a good reason for the organization to explore building duplexes and townhouses.
Traynor also inquired as to whether there was a set design that had to be abided by for the types of homes built. Typically, the homes that have been built are three-bedroom capes though one of the most recently built homes was a ranch style to accommodate the needs of the new homeowners. “We try to pay a lot of attention to making sure our houses don’t stand out as something different,” Middleton explained.
The selectmen were excited to have a potential solution to the town’s affordable housing issue. Selectman Christine Joy said, “We need to identify some parcels and hopefully get moving with the process.” Traynor agreed saying, “It’s something that we should be doing, it just needs to fit into the culture of the town.” “We are kind of a town of very modest means but we’re a town where people are willing to consider donations… this could be a real focal point for a community effort that we all could be proud of,” Russo said.
Joy also asked if Middleton and Belmore could speak to the Brush with Kindness Program. Middleton said that they have a very active program that takes on five or six projects a year that help people age in place in their homes. It is not limited by age, however, and often those with disabilities are also aided in getting things done around their home. Projects have included wheelchair ramps, roof projects, weatherization, and installation of windows and doors. Belmore said that while the labor is free, homeowners are asked to assist with the purchasing of materials to the extent that they are able.
Town Administrator Elizabeth Dennehy provided an update on various affairs in town. Dennehy told the Selectmen that there had been some paid leave for employees under federal coronavirus legislation that had been passed early in the pandemic. To date, Congress has not extended that provision which leaves towns to come up with their own. Dennehy said that should the state or federal government decide to pass further legislation it would prevail over local policy. She said, “I’m hoping we won’t have to use it a lot and that we are on a path to wellness.”
Dennehy also said that for the time being the townhouse and transfer station will remain functioning as they have been for some weeks now. Dennehy said she hasn’t received any complaints about residents being unable to get needed services. She said the town will reevaluate the status of various town departments in a few weeks.
Dennehy told the selectmen that the Board of Health and Fire Department have been inundated with questions regarding vaccine rollout. “We intend to keep people informed as far as the minute we find anything out, we’re happy and ready and willing and able to get that information out to the public. Currently speaking we’re not in a position to be administering vaccines or anything like that but we’re working on a program right now with some other towns… so as soon as we can get people vaccinated whether we have that capability or whether we partner with another town in the area we’ll definitely keep the public informed on that,” Dennehy explained.
COVID numbers continue to be updated weekly on both the town website and the town Facebook page. Dennehy said she had received a request for data regarding age group and other specifics about positive cases in town but said she doesn’t have the manpower to do that level of tracking.
The Selectmen closed with their rants and raves. Joy said her rave was for Habitat for Humanity and both Russo and Traynor concurred. Russo shared a rant saying, “we had a little mischief at Churchill Park last week. Some graffiti, some trash left behind. Kind of frustrating that that has happened but within an hour of the Open Space Committee and the Board of Selectmen learning of that we ensured that there was a police investigation and got in the process of cleaning it up and have started closing the gate at dusk to deal with those issues.” Russo spoke about how the project was a community effort that took years of hard work and dedication to come to fruition. He referred to the area as “sacred ground” and said of the poor behavior, “that is not the place for that to happen.”