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HAC in the News

HAC offers reason for hope at Route 134 Project in Dennis

Posted on Tue, Jan 25, 2011

Deferred dream: Affordable housing desperately needed at Melpet Farm

Cape Cod Times


When the Housing Assistance Corp. tears down the buildings on the Melpet Farm in Dennis, it may be both physically and symbolically the start of something great.

There's reason to hope. Last month, Hyannis-based HAC received permission to develop 27 affordable housing units on the property, which is on Route 134. If they are able to do so, it will be the fulfillment of a dream 10 years in the making.

The past decade has included an embarrassing mixture of half measures and failed promises that resulted in upheaval within the town's housing authority and an audit by state officials. It would be hard to catalogue the entire litany of missteps that have plagued the 20-acre parcel, but it began with the awarding of no-bid contracts less than a year after voters decided to buy the property.

Since then, one housing authority director has resigned and another has been fired as a result of the project. There has also been a threat of foreclosure on part of the property, and a series of unfinished units that have not and cannot be occupied.

In short, it has generated substantial controversy. The one thing that it has not generated thus far is any permanent affordable housing units, which is what Dennis taxpayers thought they were getting when they agreed to purchase the property in 2001 for $2 million.

Although the development of affordable housing at Melpet Farm has stalled, the need for that housing has continued to grow. In fact, in October 2009, the town's affordable housing stock was less than 5 percent of its total housing, far below the 10 percent goal that the state has mandated for Massachusetts towns by 2015.

Of course, Dennis is not alone in its lack of progress; towns across the Cape are struggling to meet the state requirements. But the Melpet Farm property has been a very public, and recurring, black eye.

HAC could very well be the group to heal the wounds of the past decade. In the next two years, they hope to create 52 bedrooms on the property, designed for people earning at or below 60 percent of the median income in Barnstable County. This translates into about $650 a month for a single-bedroom apartment, and $850 for a two-bedroom apartment. With 35 years of experience and more than 300 units created, the organization certainly has the experience to take challenges and turn them around.

The second aspect of the Melpet Farms project, to develop a farm on another part of the property, has gotten off to a less-than-auspicious start. The Dennis Agricultural Commission recently canceled a meeting to discuss the future of a horse barn. The reason? Only one bid was received, and that was considered incomplete.

Dennis Town Administrator Richard White said the proposal contained a lot of general information, but not the requisite operational plan. Town officials hope to put the project out to bid again.

As far as dreams go, the Melpet Farm project has been a long time in the making. We hope that this is one dream ready to become reality.