WESTFORD — A new affordable housing development is planned for the former Coldwell Banker office building at 70 Boston Rd.
The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a special permit and use variance for the project during a May 17 hearing.
Public, private and non-profit partnership
“What we hope to do is partner with the town and partner with other organizations to create apartments at 70 Boston Rd,” Ellen Harde said. “Specifically, apartments that will be affordable in the town of Westford.”
The property was originally built as a two-family house prior to 1865. It remained a two-family house until the 1990s and early 2000s, when the Zoning Board of Appeals allowed an existing real estate office to use the entire building.
Harde says there will be no new construction on the site. The apartments will occupy the existing farmhouse and barn.
“Our goal is to provide apartments with monthly rents that are well below the going market rate,” she said.
The project will create up to seven apartments on the property. Five of the units will be workforce rental units, while the interior space of two units is planned to be sold to Habitat for Humanity.
Harde says she is following a framework developed by Habitat for Humanity and the Concord Housing Authority, where the property has dual ownership between both organizations.
“This is still being worked out, but the prototype we’re using is what they’re doing with the Concord Housing Authority,” she said. “They are ‘condominiumizing’ one house with another group of houses from the Concord Housing Authority.”
She continued, “Habitat will own one, CHA will own the others. [So for 70 Boston Rd.] we will simply sell the interior space in the barn, but our LLC will still own the property and the other five apartments.”
Harde’s other workforce housing projects
Harde has been involved in other affordable housing projects in town, such as at 40 Main St., which currently houses Muffins on Main and five apartments. Harde purchased the building in 2016 and maintained below-market rents since the purchase.
“We inherited five tenants and the rents were well below market value,” she said. “We’ve kept it that way.”
She notes she wants to give residents a “place to hang their hat” before purchasing their own homes.
Harde says she receives a number of calls from potential tenants looking for workforce housing, who are not eligible for subsidized housing.
“We have found in the last seven years that we get so many phone calls from people asking for what we have learned recently is called ‘workforce housing,'” she said.
She added, “It’s for people who have good jobs. But they make too much to be eligible for subsidized housing but they don’t make enough to live in Westford anymore.”
Westford Housing Production Plan defines workforce housing as “housing units at 80% to 120% of the area median income,” which would “support economic development initiatives and broaden the range of potential home-buyers.”
Workforce housing differs from affordable housing and subsidized housing in that it targets middle-income earners, as opposed to those who are at risk of becoming unhoused.
“It’s for people who have good jobs. But they make too much to be eligible for subsidized housing but they don’t make enough to live in Westford anymore,” she said.
Saving a historic building
Another motivation for the project, Harde says, is to save historic buildings within the town. The Historic Commission met on April 26 where they designated the property a building of historic significance.
“We want to preserve a historic building and take the opportunity to create five apartments to serve the same people, the workforce,” she said. “I really love the farmhouse, it’s a quintessential part of Westford history.”
Harde says though she plans to make no changes to the exterior of the building, she plans to remove the front-facing parking lot and create a front-facing lawn.
The project could receive Community Preservation Act funding, which would ensure the units remain below market rate. Funding from the CPA is typically used to preserve historic buildings and create affordable housing.
“It [rental rates] will be determined by an agreement that we have with the Town of Westford. We can support this with CPC funding but never at this level. This is new territory,” she said.
Reporter Melanie Duronio contributed to this piece.