Town Meeting votes to dissolve Housing Authority

Town Meeting decided on May 1 to dissolve the Carlisle Housing Authority, after substantial discussion of points raised on both sides of the issue. The majority vote was in accordance with Massachusetts General Law Chapter 121B, section 3, pending approval by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). 

17aRP Freedman
David Freedman

Housing Authority Chair David Freedman explained the background. Carlisle voted to create its Housing Authority in 1987 to support the creation of affordable housing in town. The Carlisle Affordable Housing Trust was formed much later, in 2006. Freedman said that the Housing Authority does not manage or own town-sponsored housing projects such as Benfield Farms or the group home on Bedford Road. Unlike 95% of the other Housing Authorities in the state that take care of public housing units, Carlisle’s Housing Authority does not. 

In the past, the Authority worked with the Housing Trust on both Benfield and the Bedford Road group home. However, there have been no affordable housing initiatives since the group home opened in 2016. The past few years have been marred by conflicts between the Authority and the Selectmen, who make up five of the seven members of the Trust. After the Board of Selectmen (BOS) opted to eliminate the housing coordinator position from the town budget, there was a call for a mediator to facilitate discussion with the Housing Authority. The mediation never took place and the Housing Authority members resigned en masse last September. 

In the following months the Selectmen discussed the idea of eliminating the Housing Authority and appointed three members willing to serve until the question could be considered (Freedman, George Payne and Beverly Shorey). The dissolution process involves several steps: the Housing Authority members must vote to disband; any assets must be transferred; Town Meeting must agree; and DHCD must approve. 

Freedman told Town Meeting that the members of the Housing Authority have voted to dissolve the group and in preparation, all assets have been transferred to the Trust. He explained that the Housing Trust has all the powers and authority needed to investigate opportunities, build and manage affordable housing after the Housing Authority is dissolved. The Planning Board, Selectmen and Housing Authority all voted to support Article 32.

Discussion

Former Housing Authority Chair Mark Levitan disagreed that the organization was no longer needed and explained that members resigned last fall in order “to shine a light on the complete lack of progress on housing. “

Former Selectman and Housing Trust member Vanessa Moroney said that while she recognized the appearance of redundancy, she opposed elimination of the Housing Authority. She was also one of several speakers who suggested that the Trust might be able to accomplish more if the membership were expanded. Selectwoman and Housing Trust Chair Kate Reid said that the Trust has not discussed any reorganization. However, Reid noted that having five elected Selectmen on the Housing Trust created “a lot of accountability.” 

“I reluctantly support this Article,” said John Ballantine (268 Fiske Street), who chaired the Housing Authority in the 1990s. He noted that looking at housing policy is a big challenge not just in Carlisle, but across the state. “We need more housing—in the $200K to $600K range, not just the under $200K range that’s the affordable area,” he said. “The Board of Selectmen are overworked. It’s not simple. We’ve got to figure out how to be proactive.”

Josh Kablotsky (99 Nickles Lane) supported Article 32. “To have two town boards working at cross purposes is inefficient,” he said.

17bRP Levitan
Mark Levitan

“I feel badly about what’s happened between these two organizations over the past year, but to me it doesn’t make sense to replace an organization whose entire job is to work on this issue,” said Ellen Huber (15 Partridge Lane), noting that the Selectmen are busy with many other things besides housing concerns. “If we want one organization only, I think we should stick with the Housing Authority.” She also noted that the transfer of Housing Authority assets prior to Town Meeting made the vote seem “almost like a fait accompli.”

Addressing Kablotsky’s point, Levitan said that between 2006 and 2015 the Housing Authority and Selectmen/Trust were not working at cross-purposes. “We created award-winning homes. We worked together.”

Freedman said that the town’s upcoming Master Plan may help create a shared sense of where to go forward on affordable housing. He said that over the past couple of years immense energy was spent trying to get the two organizations on the same page. “Any sense that nothing is being done now because the Selectmen are too busy is just not true,” he said.

Charles Shiappa (135 Stearns Street) did not want the Master Plan to be considered a panacea for the town’s problems. He agreed with others that the Selectmen were strapped for time, noting that the board did not consider the recent Stearns Street land purchase option until after midnight at a recent marathon meeting.

Maureen Cosgrove Deary (575 South Street) spoke in favor of both dissolving the Housing Authority and expanding the membership of the Trust.

“We’ve seen in the past that having two entities doesn’t work very well,” said Kelly Guarino (119 Maple Street) “Moving ahead with one makes sense.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, the Motion carried by a majority.

Article 33 – Amend Bylaws re Housing Authority

Article 33 revised the General Bylaw Section 3. 26. 1 defining the membership of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), replacing the member from the Housing Authority with a member from the Affordable Housing Trust who is not also on the BOS. Freedman explained that a non-BOS member of the Trust was specified because the CPC already includes a member of the BOS. Davis noted that both the Selectmen and Planning Board had supported the Warrant Article. There was no discussion and the Article passed unanimously. ∆