In 2003, Joe Bossom and Mika Seeger approached Church Community Housing Corporation to see if they would be interested in creating an affordable-housing community for artists on their farmland while preserving the site's arable land for farming. A large commercial developer had expressed interest in their property, but the couple didn’t want to see a typical suburban subdivision built on productive farm land.
Eight years later, Bossom and Seeger’s vision for the farm became a reality with the opening of Sandywoods Farm, 50 units of single-family and duplex affordable rental housing on the couple’s former farm property. Artists living at Sandywoods include painters, musicians, jewelry makers, and others. In addition to the housing, the development includes a community center and an art gallery.
Financing for the development included a $400,000 grant and $2.6 million subsidized advance (plus $393,391 in advance subsidy) from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston's Affordable Housing Program through member BankNewport.
In this FHLB Boston multimedia profile, take a tour of Sandywoods Farm, visit with residents, and learn what comes next for this one-of-a-kind development.
(Photo left: Resident Erin Thomson.)
Stephen Ostiguy, Executive Director, Church Community Housing Corporation
We started working on this project in 2003, when Joe Bossom and Mika Seeger ― the owners of Sandywoods Farm in Tiverton, Rhode Island ― contacted us. They had heard about Tiverton’s need to achieve the 10-percent affordable-housing goal set by the state for each Rhode Island community. They wanted to know if we were interested in creating an affordable artists community on their property.
Joe and Mika wanted to sell a portion of their land but they wanted some control over how it would be used. A large developer was interested in building a typical residential subdivision on the site, but they didn’t want to see the land used for that purpose.
We spent a long time with them discussing how the property could be developed. We received a small grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to do a planning study. As part of that study we were also selected to work with students from the Rhode Island School of Design, who put together conceptual ideas about how to preserve the farm and create affordable housing and open space on the site.
(Photo right: View of housing and farmland.)
We received funding for predevelopment work and hired an architect ― Donald Power Associates ― to help develop a plan. We also worked with a local engineer on issues around septic systems since there was no water or sewer on the site.
We decided to preserve acreage with the best soil for agriculture and set aside wetland areas for open space and recreational use. The housing would be built on land that wasn’t suitable for agriculture. Of the roughly 194 acres the owners were selling, only about 10 acres had been used for agriculture ― mostly for hay production. The quality of this land wasn’t high enough for tilling.
Our plan was to preserve 22 acres for agriculture and set aside 26 acres for housing. The Tiverton Land Trust would acquire 96 acres for use as open space and recreation, while the town would use two acres to build a new town library. The town, which is in the middle of a three-year campaign to raise funds to build the library, had been committed to building a new library for a number of years but hadn’t been able to find a suitable site until now.
Joe and Mika had purchased the farm in the mid 1980s from a local family that had lived there for several generations. They built a house and a barn on the site and kept a variety of animals, including cattle, goats, and chickens.
(Photo right: Duplex and single-family rental housing.)
We carved out two acres of the property for Joe and Mika, who will stay in their home, while we will take over the farm operation, the barn, and Mika’s former ceramics studio. Mika is a ceramics artist and plans to build a new studio nearby. We’re in the early stage of setting up arts classes for the community. One possibility is to have resident artists, including Mika, teach the classes in her old studio.
Sandywoods Farm Opens
By November 2010, we had certificates of occupancy for all 50 residential units. The residences are a mix of three-bedroom single-family houses and one- and two-bedroom duplexes.
We put in full basements with high ceilings in all of the units. We also put in larger basement windows to allow for more natural light. We did this so the residents can use the basements as work space.We also built a community center and three buildings with residences on the top floor and commercial space on the ground floor. This is our Main Street area. We’re thinking of having an art gallery in at least one of the commercial spaces.
(Photo right: Resident Harmony Dietz.)
We currently have 48 of the 50 units occupied. Twenty-eight of the 48 residents are artists. The other folks living here are interested in the community gardens and the agricultural piece. We have some very young families as well as a few older people living in the smaller units. We might have one or two retired residents.
As part of the application process for the housing, we asked the applicants to write an artist’s statement and provide samples of their work. We asked them to write an essay on why they wanted to live in the community and what they could bring to it.
Everyone brings something to the community. We are now forming coops around the different arts. For example, we have a group of painters and a group of musicians who are trying to figure out how the community should use the gallery and performing arts space.
We call Sandywoods Farm an artist/agricultural community. In urban areas, there are various permanent communities for artists in factory buildings that have been converted to lofts, but in semi-rural communities we didn’t find anything like Sandywoods.
(Photo right: The community center.)
The Farm and Community Gardens
We’re working with the local conservation commission to develop a farm plan for the site. The farm plan is long-term ― five to 10 years ― and will be implemented once we bring in the farm family, who will live in a house we plan to build for them on the site.
Most of the farm land will be used for hay production, but some will be set aside for vegetable cultivation. We’re hoping to raise chickens and goats on the farm and are looking into the possibility of producing cheese there. We’re looking at the kind of non-tilling farming that would be suitable for the site. Possibilities include blueberry cultivation and orchards.
We’re also talking about forming a relationship with the Tiverton Land Trust that would allow our farm family to use land trust land that is suitable for farming. Our farm isn’t really big enough for one family. In return, we will make available to the land trust some of our woodlands and wetlands. The land trust wants to build trails on the land, which is at the head of a small stream they want to see preserved.
(Photo right: The barn.)
We have also designated a four-acre section of the farm for community gardens. In some areas, we upgraded the soil and cleared away rocks so the land can be used for community gardens. A group of residents has already expressed interest in developing gardens on the site.
We recently finished the roads and are finishing up connecting the utilities in the ownership section of the site. We are now beginning to line up people who are interested in building homes there. In the spring we plan to start building the ownership section, which will include a mix of market and affordable housing. The buyers of the ownership property can design the kind of house they want and choose their own contractor. Some people have asked us to help them out with this. We also have sample house designs available to those who want to build here.
We’re very pleased with how the development has turned out so far. The residents really love the housing. Sandywoods has also helped the town move closer to its affordable-housing goals.
(Photo right: Sandywoods housing.)
Take a video tour of Sandywoods Farm with resident Russell Smith.
Video: Click on the Start link at the right to tour Sandywoods Farm. >>
(Photo right: Joe Bossom (right), the original owner of Sandywoods Farm, and residents.
The Numbers: Sandywoods Farm
|Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Direct Subsidy||
|Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Subsidized Advance||
|Rhode Island Foundation||
|State Housing Commission||
|Affordable Housing Renewable Energy Investment Program||
|Rhode Island Targeted Loan||
|Rhode Island Housing||
|Deferred Developer Fee||
|Tax Credit Exchange Program||
|Community Development Block Grant||
|Capitalized Replacement Reserve||
|Other Soft Costs||
Visit the homes of two residents of Sandywoods Farm.
Video: Click on the Start link to the right to view the video. >>
(Photo right: Resident Erin Thomson.)
Stephen Ostiguy, Executive Director, Church Community Housing Corporation
A key component of Sandywoods Farm’s energy plan is a 275-kilowat wind generator. We expect it to be operating by the end of 2010. We’re installing it in a large field at the highest point in the development, which has a very good wind rating.
Depending on the “wind year,” the generator is expected to produce up to 80 percent of the energy used by the 50 affordable-housing units. The electricity it generates will be credited to our electric bills. We received a grant from the federal stimulus program to help pay for the wind generator.
All of the units were designed to be energy efficient and all of them have high Energy Star ratings. We had blower-door tests done on all of the units.
We’re also using high-efficiency heat pumps to reduce energy costs. Some affordable developments use geothermal technology, but we decided it would be more economical for us to use the heat pumps in combination with the wind generator. We also installed a bigger
(Photo right: A Sandywoods duplex.)
wind generator than we had originally planned. The residential units use only electricity. We will receive a rebate from National Grid for using the heat pumps.
Our goal was to use products smartly to reduce maintenance costs. Our siding is a new extruded fiberglass product made from partially recycled glass. We also used a wet cellulose insulation system, which is more efficient than the old cellulose insulation. We used bamboo for some of the flooring because it grows faster and is easier to replace than the hardwoods traditionally used for floors. We also used low-VOC paint, carpeting, and cabinets.
We didn’t generate a lot of waste during construction because we were able to recycle 85 percent of our construction scraps. We had to remove a lot of rock from the site during construction. We crushed the rock and used it to build the roadbed and septic-system. In building the development, we tried to be as green and energy-neutral as possible.
(Photo right: Sandywoods farmland.)
FHLB Boston Housing Profiles April 2011