Town Buys UMass Property for $2.6M

The Town of Nantucket’s Affordable Housing Trust will pay $2.6 million to acquire UMass Boston’s dormitory property off Vesper Lane with the intention of building new affordable rental units at the mid-island location.

The $2.6 million purchase was ratified yesterday on a unanimous vote of the Affordable Housing Trust, and special legislation authorizing the sale of the state-owned UMass property was recently approved by the Massachusetts legislature and signed by Governor Charlie Baker.

The 1.7-acre property in Gouin Village, located near Nantucket Cottage Hospital, is being purchased with funds from the so-called Neighborhood First program. Created by a vote at the 2019 Town Meeting, the Neighborhood First program was allocated $20 million in taxpayer dollars to produce additional affordable workforce housing inventory.

The UMass property is the third major property acquisition by the Trust with funds from the Neighborhood First program, following its purchases of land at 135 Orange Street and 31 Fairgrounds Road.

“It’s incredible in the last three years the progress that has been made,” Affordable Housing Trust Chair Brian Sullivan said. “To get the UMass offer approved it was an act of the legislature, so it was a complicated process and one that we worked on for a long time.”

The Affordable Housing Trust will soon issue a request for proposals to build affordable rental units on the property that will qualify to be counted among the town’s Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI), a list that is used to measure a community’s stock of low- or moderate-income housing for the purposes of the state 40B law. Cities and towns with less than 10 percent of their housing stock meeting the SHI criteria are subject to 40B affordable housing developments that allow greater density than allowed by zoning if 20 to 25 percent of the units meet the state’s definition of affordable housing. Towns that reach 10 percent of their housing stock meeting the SHI criteria or demonstrate meaningful progress toward it are granted “safe harbor” from 40B developments.

“We were presented the opportunity to acquire the property from UMass in the hospital area and this is a very suitable location for year-round housing,” said municipal housing director Tucker Holland. “The zoning is favorable, and this is a unique and appropriate opportunity.”

Noting the added steps needed to secure approve from the state legislature, Holland added “This was not the most straight-forward transaction, but we ended up in a good place.”

For UMass Boston, the $2.6 million windfall will go toward the UMass Boston Foundation for endowment purposes.

“At a time when an uncertain fiscal environment continues to require us to think wisely about our fiscal obligations, this agreement provides a twofold benefit: a significant contribution to our endowment and a relief from prohibitive financial obligations for the property,” said Umass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. “This transaction will help our School for the Environment and our university to better focus on not just maintaining but also enhancing our educational and research activities at the Nantucket Field Station.”

The cost to build the units at the UMass Boston property will not be known until the RFP process plays out, but “it’s an example of why we need a continuing revenue source,” Sullivan said, referring to several articles up for debate at this year’s Annual Town Meeting which would do just that.

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