Nonprofit Acquires Land Trust Housing, Goucester Times, February 28, 2012

By Steven Fletcher, Staff Writer

A Beverly-based nonprofit affordable housing development corporation has acquired its second housing development on Cape Ann in the past three months, bringing dozens of first-time buyer units in Gloucester into its fold.

Harborlight Community Partners officially took on the Community Land Trust of Cape Ann through a Feb. 13 merger agreement.
With the partnership, Harborlight assumes the administration of and responsibility for the trust’s 51 Gloucester condominium units in four housing projects, taking over from a four-person volunteer board headed by Bob Gillis of Cape Ann Savings Bank.
“They were looking for a home to shepherd and preserve the land trust, and we were looking to be active on Cape Ann,” Andrew DeFranza, Harborlight’s executive director, said Monday.
The move comes more than two months after Harborlight, as first reported in the Times, acquired the Pigeon Cove Ledges elderly housing project, the nonprofit’s first foray into the Cape Ann area.
In that case, the company bought the site for roughly $5 million, with $850,000 in aid from the town of Rockport through Community Preservation Act funding, and the Rockport Housing Partnership.
DeFranza said his organization acquired the site to prevent it from returning to market rate.
Harborlight, he added, wants to provide affordable housing to meet the needs of the Cape Ann population.
The Cape Ann projects are the company’s most recent developments and are, said Defranza, part of serving community needs within the nonprofit’s North Shore footprint.
Harborlight owns, manages, or supports 341 housing units providing homes for over 450 people. This housing is contained within 17 rental facilities located in seven communities on the North Shore, and 53 first-time buyer units ” most of those through its new partnership with the land trust.
“We certainly see it as an area where affordable housing need is present,” he said.
The nonprofit developer is also putting together a bid for Gloucester’s city-owned Maplewood School property.
Bids close are set to close on Wednesday for the long-dormant elementary school building; the city is looking to have it converted into 12 units of elderly housing.
The Community Land Trust of Cape Ann was originally created in 1988 by Wellspring House to develop affordable home ownership opportunities in the city. Kay O’Rourke, Wellspring’s executive director, said the program split off and became its own entity soon after that. The land trust owns the land on which the housing buildings rest, and keeps the housing prices from spiraling out an affordable housing price range, she said.
“If the unit changes hands, it’s kept affordable in perpetuity that way,” said O’Rourke.
The Land Trust developed four condominium projects in Gloucester: Haven Terrace, 26 units;   Babson Block on Granite Street, 15 units; the former Forbes School at 47 Washington St., 8 units; and 22 Taylor St., which has two units.
The condominiums were sold to first-time homebuyers earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income.
The nonprofits’ merger, said Michael O’Leary, a longtime resident of one of the Land Trust condominiums, provides Land Trust properties with a more robust organization than the trust could provide. O’Leary said he’s lived in the Haven Terrace development since 1994.
Over time, he said, the trust devolved from having its offices downtown, to consisting of four members, including Gillis.
“They weren’t continuing to get new projects,” said O’Leary.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.