Rochester Planning Board, affordable housing group brainstorm plans

Oct 9, 2019

ROCHESTER — On Oct. 8 Planning Board members and members of the Rochester Affordable Housing Inc. brainstormed ideas to help the fledgling nonprofit get off the ground with its mission to allow seniors and veterans to stay in town. 

The nonprofit wants to own property and lease it out as 500 to 800 square foot, single bedroom apartments for one or two people. The group currently does not have prices for its units because it does not own any properties, but wants to charge far less than the $1,350 affordable rate at proposed Rochester Crossroads.

The group’s scope would also be much smaller than the 208-unit development, as they would have between 5 and 20 units.

Mark Wallington and Gianno Lettieri started by outlining their original plan: fundraise the money to build a house themselves by acquiring a piece of land and driving donations with that land’s potential.

However, Ben Bailey, had a different strategy: change the zoning to focus on inexpensive units packed in tightly for those over the age of 62 and have “someone else do [the building] because they can make money.”

Wallington and Lettieri asked if the town planner could help them with crafting language for a zoning article for Town Meeting.

Board Chair Arnold Johnson said that the request was “a good way to go,” as most citizens’ petitions he has seen on zoning issues fail. However he explained that the board “can’t spot-zone,” so the nonprofit would have to have a strategy in mind for zoning.

Board members also suggested an overlay district, which would allow use for affordable senior and veteran housing or allow the land to be used as previously zoned.

One audience member asked how the group planned to define veterans. Lettieri and Wallington explained the category includes anyone with an honorable discharge, regardless of age.

Planning Board members cautioned the group from accepting state aid, as it may introduce other requirements that would take the group further from its goal.

Board member Gary Florindo also had another idea to help with affordable housing: giving older citizens tax breaks that would enable them to stay in their houses, but return the houses to market value if it is sold to someone younger.

“I wouldn’t be offended if someone moved in next to me and couldn’t pay,” Florindo said.

The Rochester Affordable Housing Inc. representatives said they would be willing to consider it, but that it might take state involvement.