EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 11, 2013

Workforce housing project opens

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — Windham’s first workforce housing development opens today.

Many people in town never thought it would. Some people in town tried to stop it. Twice voters rejected workforce housing at Town Meeting.

Phil LoChiatto isn’t one of them, though.

The selectmen’s chairman is the man who brought Deacon Place home.

The townhome-style development is in a new cul de sac, Wentworth Circle, just off Mammoth Road, a mile south of Route 111.

“I’ve been at this so long,” LoChiatto said yesterday, touring the property, “a little over three years.”

Those votes by the town against workforce zoning amendments bothered LoChiatto.

“It was a little discouraging,” he said.

But he felt the fight was worth it.

“I firmly believe this is a needed housing type in town,” he said.

Windham has a reputation as a bedroom community for Boston, a place company executives call home. Town officials last winter gave $350,000 as the average home value when talking about the budget and taxes.

LoChiatto knows other people need homes in Windham, too.

“Teachers, police officers, firemen, young kids, 26, 27 years old buying their first home — that’s my definition of workforce,” he said, conceding he dislikes the term.

“Workforce housing is a tough name,” he said. “The perception is low income or subsidized. Clearly, it is none of that.”

Start with the price. The two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath homes are marketed at $279,900.

Homeowners still have to qualify for a mortgage, which everyone knows is tougher these days after the nation’s financial crisis led to banking reforms.

The workforce element comes into play with the income cap. The idea is these homes should go to working people who otherwise could not afford to live in Windham.

LoChiatto said the income cap is just under $90,000.

There will be five workforce units at Deacon Place. The other five will be sold at market prices, now pegged at $299,900.

Two units are up now, one market and the other workforce. Eight remain to be built.

“The units are identical on the exterior,” LoChiatto said. “The difference will be with the amenities inside.”

The workforce units are fully carpeted, with vinyl floors, maple cabinetry, laminate counters. The market units have hardwood floors, ceramic tiles, granite counters and stainless steel appliances.

Both styles, about 1,800 square feet, come with pressure-treated decks, garages, parking for two vehicles, and two-floor living with a loft den or office area.

People finally get a chance to see them today. An open house is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“When they walk through the door and see the open and bright floor plan, I think they will be surprised at how much unit they are getting for the sales price,” he said.

LoChiatto’s companies, Sun Coast Properties and White Water Mountain Design & Development, are behind the project.

LoChiatto said he doesn’t want to rehash his successful zoning fight with the town. He’s concentrating on putting people in those homes. He is optimistic, given an improving market, that Deacon Place could be full in a year.

LoChiatto acknowledges homebuyers aren’t the only ones he expects to see at the open house today. He’s sure the curious — including some who never wanted Deacon Place built — will come.

LoChiatto thinks those people will be surprised the project happened, but he’s hoping they take away something more.

“That it basically allays their fears of what they thought workforce housing would be,” he said.