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HARVARD — Town meeting established a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust last spring and appropriated $15,000 of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to get it off the ground.

This spring an additional $110,209 of CPA money will be sought at the Annual Town Meeting for the trust, but the request could resurrect a debate that took place last year.

At issue is the trust’s ability to act without the approval of town meeting or the Board of Selectmen.

While trust backers say flexibility is necessary to maximize the chance for compliance with the state-mandated 10 percent affordable-housing threshold, others are leery of granting that much leeway for the use of public funds.

Selectman Lucy Wallace, who has been acting chairman of the trust, acknowledged those concerns.

“There were some people who didn’t like the trust because of that,” she said. “But I think once the group has a track record, people will feel better about it.”

Wallace referenced the Conservation Trust, which has, on numerous occasions, purchased key conservation property and held it until town meeting made a purchase.

She said the trust is similarly empowered, with the ability to own, rent or manage property. It can also receive gifts and carry on other activities in the context of providing local affordable housing.

The fledgling trust is in a bit of a Catch-22, said Wallace. It’s hard to get money without a reputation, she said, and hard to get a reputation without money.

Further, the request would only give the trust enough money to start its initial job of evaluating local opportunities for affordable housing.

“It will give us the opportunity to begin to function,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to buy anything outright with $110,000.”

On the other side is Mort Miller, who serves on the trust as a citizen at large.

Miller lives on Westcott Road near the gravel pit that Wallace and the Housing Partnership were eyeing for a town-sponsored Chapter 40B development last year.

That plan evoked a great deal of outcry from neighbors, who called the 30-plus unit complex too dense and out of character for the neighborhood.

When the partnership came to town meeting last year looking for funds to investigate the idea further, the request was denied.

Now rules and regulations of the trust are being drawn up, and Miller said he’s focusing on a method to include the public on its decisions.

“I think the gravel pit is a good example, because town meeting had budgetary control and was involved with the decision,” he said. “I think some of us are looking for ways to maintain flexibility but not preclude town meeting’s involvement in the expenditure of public money and decisions that have a major impact on the town.”

If the trust can spend money with no further approval, he reasoned, what would happen if another affordable housing project like the gravel pit land came up?

“If (the gravel pit) had gone through the trust with its current policies and procedures, it would have been a fait accompli,” he said. “It would have just happened. That’s the power of the purse.”

That discussion will likely resume when the trust holds a public hearing on its policies March 19, at 7:30 p.m. at Hildreth House.

Wallace acknowledged that issues arose about the trust at town meeting last year, but she’s optimistic support will be there again.

“There was lengthy conversation, but town meeting supported the creation of the trust, and now we need the funding,” she said.

She also noted that Chapter 40B developments, which can bypass local zoning, have increasingly targeted Harvard in recent years.

The only way to deny such developments is to have 10 percent affordable housing or produce 16 affordable units per year. Harvard currently has less than 3 percent affordable units in its overall housing stock, but using the trust to pursue opportunities for converting existing structures into affordable units could give Harvard a better chance of reaching those goals, said Wallace.

“The trust could be a great way to put the town in a better position vis-à-vis hostile 40Bs,” she said.

The fund trustees include two members of the Board of Selectmen, a member from the Housing Partnership and Housing Authority, a representative from the Conservation Trust and two citizens at large.

The $110,209 in CPA funds is already earmarked for affordable-housing projects, but requires a town meeting vote for appropriation.

The CPA is funded through a 1.1-percent property-tax surcharge matched with state revenues collected from the registry of deeds. CPA funds must be used for affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space and recreation projects.

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