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Housing lottery: Odds Against It

Posted by Lisa Crowley  May 29, 2009 12:01 PM

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By L.E. Crowley
Town correspondent

Teacher Andrew Roberts from Scituate was disappointed, but not surprised, when his number didn't come up during a lottery for five affordable units in the Washington Woods townhouse condominium complex in Norwell.

“I knew the odds were against it, but it’s a beautiful project and just to have a chance at one was worth a try,” Roberts said.

On Thursday night at Norwell Town Hall, eight people attended the required public lottery to fill a total of 10 units that will be sold at below market rates, about $179,000, in the partially built complex at 239 Washington St.

The remaining 29 market-price units are expected to sell for $500,000 and more.

Last night, five of the 10 affordable units were part of the lottery. A lottery for the remaining five will be held at a later date. All applicants must meet strict financial eligibility requirements that are monitored throughout the process.

Samantha Arena, another Scituate teacher who accompanied Roberts to the lottery, said because of automatic raises and increases in a teacher’s salary, there is small window for a young, new teacher to qualify for the affordable units.

“This will probably be his only chance,” Arena said.

Roberts, who said he will probably continue to rent an apartment, said he knew his chances were slim because he lives in Scituate.

Three of the five units had been set aside for Norwell residents as part of a complicated ranking system that, in this case, gave a local preference. With the local preference, two of the five units were available for a wider pool of applicants.

For those two units, 13 manila computer-printed out cards with numbers on them went into a ballot box and were pulled out by a Town Hall maintenance employee who was recruited on the spot as an impartial party.

Roberts’s ballot did not come up for the two units, and it didn’t come up for the waiting list.

The people represented by the 13 ballots did not have to attend last night’s lottery to be selected for the units. One woman from Scituate who did not want to provide her name, let out a whoop of joy when her applicant number—163—put her first on the waiting list.

Because of the lengthy process and financial eligibility requirements, those who win the lottery often are rejected for final approval, sometimes because they get new jobs with higher pay during the process, which can last from months to more than a year.

So being first on the waiting list is just another step in a process described as grueling. But if your number comes up could represent a high-end place to live, without the high-end price.

“Like my fellow applicant said, ‘it’s a painful, happy, limbo,’” said the woman with Ballot 163.

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