Orange Community Director addresses housing rumors

ORANGE — In response to an article that appeared in Wednesday’s edition of the Recorder that was said to contain a number of factual errors, community development director Kevin Kennedy went off script before the selectboard Wednesday night to address the rumors the article had stirred up, specifically that specifically, the statement made that the proposed housing project at the former New Home Sewing Company’s factories on West River Street will be low-income housing.”

The article stated that the project “will come in the form of a $44 million, 63-apartment housing project for lower-income residents slated for downtown.” Kennedy told the selectboard that the developer, Chris Starr, of Starr Development Partners, used low-to-moderate income tax credits to close the $1.5 million gap in funding they had to get the project started, therefore all of the units are technically low-to-moderate income units, however that is only based on what constitutes low-to-moderate housing in Boston, which is significantly more. “It doesn’t mean you will see Section 8, it doesn’t mean poor people are moving in,” he said.

When they created the plan, Kennedy said, the state requested quotes of what the estimated rental cost of each unit would be; $795 for a one bedroom apartment, $995 for a two bedroom apartment, and $1,265 for a three bedroom apartment. “Those rents are actually high for this area,” said Kennedy. “You could definitely get a two bedroom for less than $1,000.”

“I feel as though those rents are going to bring people in who are of a higher income than you typically see. Also, to qualify to rent in this unit you can make no more than $52,691 as a three-member family, or $62,727 as a four-member family. I think if you are making 52 or 62 thousand dollars in Orange you are doing pretty good, especially within downtown Orange,” Kennedy said. He added that he believes the type of people who will be attracted to these apartments will be recent college graduates or young families that haven’t started having kids yet. 

“I understand the fear people have when they first hear ‘low-income,’ but believe me, with the quality and the amount of rent and the allowed income in these units we are going to see a higher quality of residents within our downtown,” Kennedy said. 

Selectman Richard Sheridan noted that if someone currently living in Section 8 housing wanted to move into one of the new units they would still be able to do so as the law states that Section 8 can’t even come up in the discussion, it just means those living with a Section 8 housing subsidy would have to come up with a larger portion of their own contribution to cover the rent. “I don’t want it out there that we are in this situation because of poor people and that we don’t want poor people here,” he said. “We wouldn’t get the grants that we do, like we do for community development, without the poor people here...I don’t have a problem with the building being subsidized or not, the assessment on the building will be the same.”

Selectman Walter Herk asked specifically if Kennedy knew whether or not any part of the new housing units would be tax exempt. Kennedy replied that the facility will be fully valued and no part of it will be tax exempt. He added that, of the 63 units proposed, 16 will be three-bedroom apartments and 30 will be two-bedroom apartments. 

Selectboard chair Kathy Reinig noted that the town shouldn’t be concerned with having poor people or non poor people living in the units as what makes a community flourish is having a healthy mix of all kinds of people and cultures. 

Herk asked if the new units will become a burden on the school system. Reinig replied that, while the population of Orange has actually increased, it has also aged and so school enrollment has decreased. This is very much the reason why the town has not sought to replace the close Butterfield School, she said.

As per the Recorder’s article reporting that the project is set to begin construction this fall, Kennedy said he has received nothing about a schedule and no permits have been pulled yet.

Kennedy also added that, as the rehabilitated buildings will have to be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, the apartments might also be a viable option for the 55+ and older community. 

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