Select Board Debates Housing Trust

Reading, MA — The Select Board considered a draft proposal to revise the Affordable Housing Trust on Tuesday night. Town Counsel Ivria Fried explained that the town’s current trust was created by a special act and requires Town Meeting action to use any funds. Fried continued to share that under the proposed change, the bylaws would create a board to oversee the trust and empower it to act. “Right now, if a property becomes available, Town Meeting must appropriate [the funds],” Fried explained. “[The proposed changes] allows the town to act quickly when affordable housing opportunities arise,” Consultant Keith Bergman continued. Bergman has aided in similar efforts in Concord and Littleton. The conversation regarding the trust emerged as a result of a Town Meeting instructional motion asking for the board to investigate changes to the current trust.

“The key change is a proactive stance to affordable housing.” Select Board chair Mark Dockser opined. Under the proposal, any action dealing with the acquisition, disposition, or mortgage of real property would require Select Board action. Select Board member Chris Haley suggested that an amount of expenditure be set that would require Select Board action, possibly a percentage of available funds. The current trust has just above $400,000 available. The trust has remained dormant since the development of the 30 Haven building in 2012.

Select Board member Karen Herrick asked if the trust would be able to develop a program to aid first-time homebuyers in town. Fried indicated that this type of program could be an option. Select Board member Jackie McCarthy will work with Fried to develop language regarding trust membership, and the Select Board will continue its conversation at its August 9 meeting.

The board voted 5-0 to allow a driveway at 71 Middlesex Avenue to be moved to a different location on the property. It voted 5-0 to approve $11,620 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be given to the Trails Committee for additional boardwalk construction, and it voted 5-0 to approve $100,000 in ARPA funds for the next phase of dead tree removal in the town forest.

The board approved a plan to invite boards, committees, and commissions to make regular presentations to the Select Board. It also assigned Haley the task of developing possible revisions to the Volunteer Appointment Sub-Committee process in the Select Board policies.

The Select Board adjourned to executive session to discuss a possible lease of the 14,157 square-foot former Walgreens building in the town square for use as a supplement to the Senior Center. This discussion developed after receiving a response from the property owner for a request for a proposal. “It is an interesting site; the location cannot be beat”, Dockser stated. “It is sitting there, not doing anything currently.” The building has been empty for over six years since a corporate merger rendered it redundant to the owner.

The board adjourned to executive session at 9:15 pm.

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