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Newton gets grant to study potential affordable housing at armory

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller wants the city to buy the West Newton Armory and lease it to a developer.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller wants the city to buy the West Newton Armory and lease it to a developer.John Hilliard for The Boston Globe

The city has received a $200,000 state grant to study the feasibility of converting the West Newton Armory into affordable housing as local officials explore potential future uses of the state-owned building.

Newton was one of 20 communities to receive the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development’s Housing Choice Community Capital Grant for fiscal 2020, according to a press release on the department’s website.

In May, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller proposed turning the West Newton Armory into affordable housing. The Washington Street building, which had been used by the state Army National Guard, is about 30,000 square feet and was built in 1910.

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The state grant money would be used by the city’s Planning Department to hire a consultant who would determine the feasibility of converting the old armory into affordable housing, according to a statement from Fuller’s office. The City Council must accept the state grant for that work to commence; the council is expected to vote on whether to accept the grant at a meeting in February.

“Due to its unique layout and historical significance, the West Newton Armory presents complicated preservation, design, financial, and environmental challenges if it is transformed into housing,” the statement said. “These challenges require a high level of analytical expertise.”

According to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the consultant will look at project parameters such as costs, potential unit count, financing options, as well as hazardous materials, design possibilities, and historic preservation considerations.

That work will inform a subsequent request for proposals to select a qualified affordable housing developer, the department said in its own press release.

Fuller’s office said a city working group has been trying to identify future uses of the armory, including affordable housing, and make a recommendation to city councilors.

Acquiring the armory would require approval from the City Council and state lawmakers. Pending special legislation would require that the city complete its review and purchase the armory by June 30, according to Fuller’s office.

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Fuller has said the city can buy the armory for $1 from the state if the building is used for housing. Her proposal calls for leasing the building to a developer who would convert and manage the property.

Should Newton seek to use the building for another purpose, the city would have to pay about $1 million for it — approximately one-quarter of its assessed $4.3 million value, Fuller has said.

If the city does not buy the property, the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance could sell the armory to a private owner.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com