TRURO — A process that began in 2015 crossed a critical threshold last week when the state awarded $7.8 million in grant money and $8.5 million in tax credits to the Cloverleaf affordable housing project in North Truro.
Thirty-nine units will be built on the 3.9-acre parcel, which was transferred to the town in 2017 specifically for the construction of affordable housing. Shovels will likely hit the ground sometime around July, developer Ted Malone told the Independent, with construction probably taking another 18 months.
The state money, awarded by the Dept. of Housing and Community Development, is the largest part of the project’s funding mix. All told, the current cost estimate for the Cloverleaf is $24 million, Malone said, with hard construction costs having gone up about 35 percent since the pandemic began.
The project’s origins were in Gov. Charlie Baker’s Open for Business initiative, which encouraged state agencies to transfer excess land to towns and nonprofits for housing and energy projects. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito visited Truro Town Hall in 2015, and the Cloverleaf parcel, so-called because it occupied land that the state Dept. of Transportation had reserved for a highway interchange that was never built, was conveyed in 2017.
When wells and septic systems share the same parcel, the Dept. of Environmental Protection places tight limits on the number of bedrooms, Malone said. In 2019, the state announced a $1.2 million grant to run municipal water to the site, which changed the rules governing the project dramatically. The parcel was “originally slated for eight units,” according to the governor’s announcement that November, but could now “accommodate 42 units of new rental housing, better addressing Truro’s severe need for affordable housing.”
The final iteration of the project includes 39 units, according to documents filed with the state. Six of them will be for people with “extremely low incomes” — that is, 30 percent of area median income (AMI) or less. Nineteen units will be for people making up to 60 percent of AMI; another eight will be for middle-income households making up to 100 percent of AMI; and the last six will be market-rate rentals. Area median income in Barnstable County is a federally defined number; this year it is $76,100 for a one-person household and $87,000 for a two-person household.
Housing advocates applauded the expansion of the project to 39 units, citing the immense need for housing that is affordable for working people. The prices of homes on Cape Cod have increased dramatically faster than growth in earnings here, and a large majority of homes are now sold to people who do not work in the county.
Truro also has the lowest inventory of subsidized year-round housing on Cape Cod, currently listed by the state at 2.3 percent.
The expanded Cloverleaf project was not without critics, however. The project was discussed at 26 different meetings of the Truro Zoning Board of Appeals, Malone said, and a lawsuit challenging the board’s issuance of a comprehensive permit delayed progress for about a year. Both groundwater quality and Truro’s “rural character” were offered as reasons the project should be dramatically scaled back.
That the lawsuit lasted only a year was a result of a state law passed in January 2021 that allowed judges to impose a bond requirement on plaintiffs who challenge affordable housing permits in court.
Sally’s Way is a 16-unit affordable housing development near the Truro Public Library that Malone’s company, Community Housing Resource, completed in 2013. The permits granted by the zoning board of appeals for that project were held up in court for five years. Only one neighbor, who lived mostly in Canada, was responsible for that lawsuit, Malone said.
The Cloverleaf case was one of the first times the option to levy a bond requirement was used in court. In November 2021, Land Court Judge Diane Rubin imposed a $25,000 bond on the 10 litigants who contested the Cloverleaf’s permit. That was only half of the $50,000 that the law allowed; nonetheless, the plaintiffs chose not to post the bond and signed a settlement agreement with Malone in February. That agreement required one additional monitoring well west of the project, Malone said, and some widened crosswalks within the development.
“I think the tide shifted,” Malone said, “in terms of the perception of the need for housing and what that means for the economic health of the Commonwealth.” The Republican governor and the Democratic legislature were both pulling for housing reform over the last eight years, he noted.
There were other forms of state help for the Cloverleaf as well. About half the cost of a so-called innovative/alternative septic system is being paid for with a $305,000 state grant, Malone said, and the Cape Light Compact is contributing $1.4 million for high-efficiency heat pumps.
Energy improvements for the project came as a direct result of the involvement of the Truro Energy Committee, he said.
“The energy committee folks connected me to the Cape Light Compact, and we got a planning grant to find out what was feasible,” Malone said. “It’s a challenge when it’s a new layer you’re not familiar with — but it made the project better.” Disability advocates helped improve the project as well, Malone said, and more units will be accessible because of their work.
“Reasonable, informed input can be beneficial,” Malone said. “When it’s not, it can be destructive.”
“It has been an uphill fight to build these 39 units, but we are winning on this issue,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr, who represents the Cape and Islands district and lives in Truro. “I’ve met already with Truro officials about how we can maximize state grants to the Walsh property, including the MassWorks program to bring municipal water, and to install a wastewater system that can support hundreds of units at that site.”
“I’d like to see three hundred units at the Walsh property,” Cyr added. “I’m excited.”