Norwich affordable housing group favors treating $45,000 as revolving fund

Submitted a month ago
Created by
Mark Travis

The group charged with recommending how to use Norwich’s $45,000 affordable housing fund is inclined to commit it to a single project at a decisive moment under terms that will lead to repayment -- and then repeat.

At its meeting on Nov. 20, the Affordable Housing Subcommittee of the town Planning Commission agreed on four basic goals for using the money.

According to draft minutes of the meeting, the first goal is to facilitate housing in town that is legally required to remain affordable forever.

The second goal is to maximize the fund’s benefit by leveraging the money. Town Planning and Zoning Director Rod Francis said that means several things, beginning with committing the money to a single project at a time, and only at a moment when the money is decisive in allowing the project to go forward.

The third goal is to treat the money as a revolving loan, through legal terms specifying when and how it is to be repaid -- ideally with interest.

That supports the fourth goal: growing the fund over time.

The underlying objective, Francis said, is to avoid spending money in a way that doesn’t yield lasting results -- and, over time, to spend it more than once.

The subcommittee has more thinking to do, Francis said. Members are discussing whether the fund is best managed by an outside entity under a structure that allows private donors to contribute to it, too, in what would amount to a public-private partnership.

Without a well-considered approach, Francis said, $45,000 won’t make much of a difference.

“If you think of the price of an average three-bedroom home, what is it?” he said. “A bedroom?”

Still, he added, the fund’s existence is important in and of itself. “It does signal the community’s willingness to want to do something meaningful about affordable housing,” he said.

Once the subcommittee has finalized its recommendations, Francis said, they will be reviewed by the full Planning Commission and then forwarded to the Selectboard for approval.

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