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515WVN #406: Habitat housing-- Hannah Williams playground closed

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jun 1, 2011
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Planning is under way to build the first Habitat for Humanity affordable housing in Wayland.

      Also in this newsletter: The Hannah Williams Playground, scheduled for replacement, has been closed. A consultant found about 40 safety hazards.

      FIRST STEPS TOWARD HABITAT HOUSING

      A year ago Annual Town Meeting voted to transfer three acres on Stonebridge Road for affordable housing with the understanding that Habitat for Humanity might build four units there. Habitat for Humanity-MetroWest/Greater Worcester, which comprises Wayland, submitted a proposal.

      Meetings are being held monthly to begin involving the community. The second meeting was held on May 26.

      Habitat, which uses volunteer labor to build housing in many countries, estimates breaking ground a year from now. Before that happens, a local project committee must be formed and state and town approvals must be obtained. The committee must obtain 30% of the funding in advance.

      The estimated cost of the project is $600,000 -- $150,000 per unit. This would be raised from donations of both materials and cash. Organizations such as churches, synagogues and mosques as well as civic and corporate donors are encouraged to participate in fund-raising and provide materials and volunteer labor. Community spirit often results from helping build Habitat housing. Youth groups such as high school service groups or scout troops often participate. Professional supervision of volunteers is provided.

      The project will apply for Local Initiative Program (LIP) status from the state. This enables the town to claim credit under the 40B affordable housing law. 40B prescribes income limitations for buyers. For Habitat, the income restriction is even stronger: homeowners must have incomes less than 60% of area median income.

      Habitat, like 40B developments, determines the amount of the mortgage based on the income of the new homeowner, not on the cost of building. For Habitat, the sum of the costs of the monthly mortgage payment, the condo fee, insurance, property tax, and utilities must be less than 30% of the homeowner's income.

      As with 40B developments, the property tax is based on the amount of the mortgage, not on the market-rate cost. If the unit is resold, a deed restriction requires that it must continue to be affordable. It cannot be resold at market rate.

      Unlike 40B developments, Habitat underwrites the mortgage and does not charge interest. Also, Habitat provides help if a new homeowner is temporarily unable to pay the mortgage. New homeowners must also contribute "sweat equity," 500 hours of building for a couple or 400 hours for a single person.

      Typical Habitat homeowners might be, for example, single mothers, employed full time at low-paying jobs and previously living in rental units. The two homeowners at a new Habitat House in Sudbury are a single mother with two children and a single mother with one child.

      Although Habitat is a faith-based organization, there is no religious requirement for new homeowners. Nor is there a geographic requirement. Applicants will be screened for financial eligibility and a lottery will select from eligible applicants.

      Although the Metro West/Greater Worcester organization includes many towns from Worcester to Wayland, neighbor towns Weston and Lincoln are in the Boston Habitat group and special arrangements would have to be made to involve them in a Wayland project.

      -- Betty Salzberg


      HANNAH WILLIAMS PLAYGROUND CLOSED

      Just before Memorial Day weekend, Public Works Director Don Ouellette closed the popular Hannah Williams Playground in Cochituate Village.

      The announcement merely said, "Due to structural safety hazards the playscape at Hannah Williams Playground has been closed as of May 27, 2011."

      But Ouellette amplified the background of the closing in a meeting on May 25 of citizens interested in the design and choice of play equipment for a rebuilt Hannah Williams. Town Meeting appropriated $120,000 at the recent Annual Town Meeting, and private donations are being solicited to add to the town's contribution.

      Ouellette hired a safety consultant who found some 40 safety hazards, including a number which could cause lethal injuries. In addition to about 30 head entrapment hazards, there are many protruding nails and entanglement hazards, where clothing can get caught. These hazards have existed for some time, and Recreation Director Nancy McShea said at the meeting that "we've been lucky" that there have been no serious injuries. She explained that even though the hazards are only newly documented, not new, now that the town knows about them it has a "duty of care" to respond to protect the public.

      An additional reason to close the playground was discussed at the meeting. In preparation for construction of a new playground Ouellette had the area tested for toxic heavy metals. There were positive results for lead at the rear of the play area and arsenic under the equipment. Further testing is being done. If confirmed, Ouellette said,he will have to call in a Licensed Site Professional to deal with the problem.

      This area was the site of numerous shoe manufacturers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those buildings have all been demolished, but lead paint was commonly used until 1977 and can be left behind in soil long after all other traces of structures disappear.

      The Hannah Williams playground equipment was built in the 1980's, almost certainly using the then new and popular arsenic pressure-treated wood. Such wood has enjoyed widespread use for building decks, patios, fences, playgrounds, sand boxes, gardening beds, etc. because preservatives make the material more rot and rodent resistant. The use of such wood was later found to lead to arsenic leaching and toxic exposure and was discontinued for residential and playground use at the end of 2003. Arsenic is a known carcinogen. Today's pressure-treated wood uses safer compounds.

      Recent studies have shown, contrary to earlier claims, that arsenic continues to leach from treated wood indefinitely.

      The DPW's announcement concludes:
      "Funds have been appropriated to build a new playscape and to improve the
      playground. Plans for the design of the new playground are available in
      the DPW office at the Wayland Town Building. The replacement playscape is
      projected to be built and open for play by the end of the summer or early
      fall 2011. CONTACT: Don Ouellette, Director of Public Works, 508.358.3672"

      -- Tom Sciacca
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