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The Orleans Story: how to create a housing trust

The Orleans Story pop. 5,890 (2010)

Orleans created a housing trust in 2000 through a home rule petition, well before the legislation for Municipal Affordable Housing Trusts (MAHT) was passed in 2005. However, this trust was limited in its capacity.

The Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) was meeting actively, discussing how to increase affordable housing development in town. Yet they struggled with supporting projects without any funding. They began to consider other housing trust models.

In 2017, the town engaged a consultant to create a Community Housing Study, spearheaded by the AHC. Creating a MAHT was identified as a short-term goal. One AHC member initiated a discussion about municipal affordable housing trusts (MAHT) at a Barnstable County HOME consortium meeting and another attendee suggested the AHC connect with Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s (MHP) Community Assistance Team.

The committee reached out to MHP and a conference call between the AHC and MHP staff was held in the fall of 2017 to talk through the MAHT statute, how to set up a housing trust and how other communities were using their MAHT to address local housing goals.

In Orleans, the AHC took the lead in advocating for a change in the community’s housing trust structure, but they found a strong partner in the Select Board. The Select Board’s appointment to the AHC was a critical link. He took an interest in the need for affordable housing, agreed with modifying the housing trust and advocated for this change with modifying the housing trust and advocated for this change with other Select Board members. In December, the chair of the AHC made a presentation to the Select Board about municipal affordable housing trusts.

Members of the AHC gave a couple additional community presentations to talk about why a change in housing trust structure was a good move for Orleans. The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) agreed to support the change and voted to recommend a $300,000 Community Preservation Act (CPA) allocation to the new trust.

With the encouragement of town staff and the Finance Committee chair, the AHC proposed a permanent tax override to also fund the new housing trust. The request amount was set at $275,000.

The Select Board gave the AHC wide latitude in proposing a structure for the MAHT. As a team, the AHC discussed the powers that could be granted to a trust and decided to recommend that the purchase or sale of real property require the approval of the Select Board. This meant the community needed to write a bylaw to modify the powers outlined in Chapter 44, Section 55c.

In March 2018, the proposed MAHT warrant article was approved for spring Town Meeting, as well as a ballot question to fund the trust with a $275,000 override.

Now the committee turned its attention to final community outreach to urge affirmative votes at the May 7 Town Meeting. They participated in an Orleans Citizens Forum. They reached out to the Finance Committee that assured the AHC of full support. They wrote an article for the local paper that MHP’s communications director helped fine tune.

Members of the AHC felt there was a general understanding in Orleans that housing in the community was not affordable. Having a current housing study provided them with data outlining the affordability gap that they disseminated widely.

And at Town Meeting they were not disappointed. The MAHT warrant article passed, as well as the ballot question to put a $275,000 override on the spring ballot and the $300,000 recommendation of CPA funds to capitalize the new trust.

On May 15, the town voted overwhelmingly to support the tax override to fund the new housing trust with 71% of voters in favor.