The Select Board on Wednesday unanimously approved additional funding for two affordable housing projects, including up to another $2.5 million for the 22-apartment Wiggles Way affording housing development now under construction off Fairgrounds Road.
The Wiggles Way complex will be comprised entirely of affordable housing units targeted at year-round residents, who should be able to move in by January 1st. Eventually, the development will be net zero, and it has already secured funding for solar arrays from ReMain Nantucket.
“I did get a tour of the premises last week and I was very impressed,” Select Board member Tom Dixon said, adding that this was exactly the kind of housing project Nantucket needs more of. But the project has been plagued with cost overages, and this is the third time the developers have been forced to come back before the Select Board for additional funds.
“These additional costs are necessary in order to get the project across the finish line,” municipal housing director Tucker Holland said. “In retrospect, one might say that there was a conservative approach to budgeting with regard to this.”
The additional $2.5 million in funding brings the total project cost to $12.7 million, exclusive of the land acquisition costs.
The overages were attributed to construction costs that have skyrocketed since the pandemic began, leaving builders scrambling to adapt and complicating many construction projects. Ultimately, the Wiggles Way development will still come in at a lower price per unit than many comparable projects.
“In today's market, this is really good value for what you’re getting,” project consultant Steve Hollister said.
He also emphasized that the development probably won’t end up needing the full $2.5 million. There’s a buffer built in to ensure that this is the last time the Select Board has to approve additional money for the project.
Select Board member Malcolm McNab was skeptical of the continued requests for more money and worried that the new estimate would also prove low.
“To me, it's just crazy that six months ago, we had an assessment to increase costs, and now we’re getting another one,” he said. “Something doesn’t compute.”
However, the project is much further along now, and the developer is confident in the new estimate. Holland added that a good portion of the funding for the project - approximately $8.4 million of the $12.7 million project costs - is structured as a loan, meaning it will be repaid to the town.
Select Board Vice Chair Brooke Mohr added that the town might just have to accept that the housing crisis will be costly to solve. “If we’re going to do this and we’re going to make [housing] our number one priority, then we’re going to have to spend,” she said.
McNab agreed but added: “If our priority is housing, then we have to decide what we’re not going to spend money on.”
“We can’t spend money forever,” he said.
The other cost increase of $236,000 for three ownership opportunity units built by Habitat for Humanity—which are already occupied—passed with much less debate. The cost per unit was similar to the Wiggles Way development, and the overall increase was lower.
“The Habitat folks did a terrific job on this project,” Holland said.
The Wiggles Way affordable housing development began in 2021 when the family of Fred "Wiggles" Coffin - who passed away in 2004 - decided to sell its two-acre property at 31 Fairgrounds Road to Housing Nantucket for $3.6 million. The non-profit was able to complete the acquisition with taxpayer funds from the town's Affordable Housing Trust, which was approved by town Meeting voters in 2019 as part of the so-called "Neighborhood First" program. The 22 apartments, including one-, two- and three-bedroom units, will be restricted to year-round residents earning between 50 percent and 150 percent of the area median income.