Strong demand for Acton housing units

The Acton Housing Authority recently developed 12 new apartment units in an effort to help meet a growing need for low-income rental housing in town.

Whittlesey Village was built on land behind the housing authority’s McCarthy Village senior and family housing complex on Sachem Way off Great Road.

Housing Authority executive director Kelley Cronin said the agency received more than 300 applications for the 12 units, three of which were set aside for homeless families. The tenants were chosen by a lottery.


“In the suburbs you have people hanging on by a string in the private market,’’ Cronin said. “We see it every day, people coming in looking for help. We don’t have a lot of turnover, so you need to increase the supply.’’

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Construction was completed this summer and a grand opening ceremony was held earlier this month.

The development has six duplex buildings that have nine two-bedroom units, and three three-bedroom apartments.

The units are set aside for families with a household income below 50 percent of the area’s median figure; the limit for a family of four would be $47,200 . The units are subsidized with federal funds so the tenants pay 30 percent of their income, Cronin said. One family pays $100 for example, while others pay as much as $900.

The development adds to Acton’s total of affordable-housing units, which as of April stood at 6.5 percent of the town’s housing stock; the state has set 10 percent as the target threshold under the Chapter 40B affordable-housing law.


Cronin said she hope the units will give homeless and low-income families a chance to improve their lives.

“Acton has one of the best school systems in the state, so it’s a great opportunity for low-income families to give their kids a quality public school education and hopefully break the cycle of poverty,’’ she said.

Whittlesey Village was developed through the Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s Neighborhood Rental Initiative Program, a $5 million privately funded subsidy program that supports the creation of affordable housing for families in high-opportunity communities, which are characterized by good schools, proximity to jobs, high housing costs, and a shortage of affordable housing.

Additional financing was provided by the state’s public housing division and from its Housing Stabilization Fund and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The town provided $702,000 in Community Preservation Act funds, and $388,000 through the sale of three condominiums that had been owned by the authority.

Janet Adachi, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the project was a true partnership. In addition to providing the CPA funds, the town also granted a comprehensive permit for the project.


“We don’t have a gated community and that’s one of the things that draws people here, in addition to the fine school system,’’ she said. “It makes it more of an interesting community.’’

‘Acton has one of the best school systems in the state, so it’s a great opportunity for low-income families.’

Adachi said she walked through one of the units and was impressed with the design and construction. The construction was done by Littleton-based Triumph Modular and took place in a factory instead of on the property.

Cliff Court, president of Triumph Modular, said modular construction can be cheaper, faster, greener, and less disruptive to neighbors than traditional construction. He said the modules are built at the factory and assembled on site.

Court said the method is gaining in popularity but there is still a stigma associated with modular housing. He hopes Whittlesey Village will help break down those barriers and the “mobile home’’ perception.

“Architects and developers and town and cities are coming to understand that modular no longer means temporary or cheap or inferior,’’ Court said. “When you drive by you can’t tell if it’s modular or not.’’

Robert Whittlesey, a long-time housing advocate for whom the project is named, and the chairman of the Acton Housing Authority, said he’s pleased with the outcome and hopes it can be replicated in the not-too-distance future.

“I do think it’s an example of what these suburban towns can do. We’re already starting to look for another site,’’ he said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.