Proposed fair-housing policy tilts against age restrictions

by Karina Coombs

A new state policy targeting the lack of family housing in comparison to age-restricted housing is expected to be adopted in early 2014. On November 25, the Housing Authority discussed the potential impact on Carlisle of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) draft report on fair housing. 

Fair housing laws protect 15 classes of individuals from being discriminated against in terms of housing or any component related to housing. And while fair housing differs from affordable housing, the two categories often overlap. 

Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky explained that Governor Patrick is looking to increase housing diversity within the state, with the draft report noting that housing segregation remains a significant problem in Massachusetts. Having affordable housing available to protected classes, particularly housing located in towns that provide substantial improvements in the quality of life such as education and outreach, is considered a central part of any plan.

Housing Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett provided the group with a summary document highlighting sections of the DHCD report. The summary noted that Carlisle has the lowest percentage of African Americans of any community in the Boston area. It also highlighted that future 40B developments should include more bedrooms for families with children. DHCD, in its 2013 Qualified Allocation Plan specifies that for new developments 65% of units should have two or more bedrooms and 10% should have three bedrooms.

The draft also noted that many towns resist 40B development because of concerns that local schools would be unable to handle the financial impact of an increased population. DHCD stresses this has yet to seen in any of the communities where housing has been added, and questions other motives that communities may have in denying housing to these populations. “These findings raise serious civil rights concerns. Spatial segregation not only reflects the existing social structure, it is a mechanism to enforce the structure,” writes DHCD. 

Benfield Farms update

In other business, Barnett announced that DHCD has released $1.4 million dollars for the 26-unit Benfield Farms senior affordable housing project under construction on South Street. “They’ve met all the other criteria they needed to [meet],” said Barnett, adding that the project recently received a positive inspection report. She also noted that property management company Peabody Properties is beginning to take deposits from residents with an anticipated occupancy date of February 2014.

Several members of the Housing Authority recently toured the facility along with Building Commissioner John Luther and were pleased with the progress of the project, commenting on the abundance of natural light and size of the community rooms. Lehotsky added that some of the units have floor to ceiling windows with great views. 

The group also discussed a scaling back of the solar panel system initially proposed by the developers. Lehotsky explained that the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) planned to have a third party install a large array on the roof of the structure and it would purchase the electricity from them. Instead, NOAH will install the solar panels itself, but with a smaller array because of limited funding. Barnett believed the facility would still be able to generate between 15 and 20% of its own power.

Goff property

Barnett explained that she and Lehotsky are working on the Request for Proposal (RFP) for ten bedrooms of group housing for the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) at the Goff property at 338 Bedford Road. While the Housing Trust purchased the property, it voted last month to grant Lehotsky the title of agent, to work on behalf of the Trust. (See “Housing Trust and Authority team up on Goff project,” October 30.) Barnett explained that she and Lehotsky are working with Town Counsel to see what can be used from the RFP they wrote for the Benfield Farms project.

After holding two design sessions for the development of a master plan for the entire Goff property, Abacus Architects will present its plans to the Board of Health on December 3, the Planning Board on December 9, the Board of Selectmen on December 10 and the Conservation Commission on December 12. Those interested in attending a meeting should check individual agendas at Town Hall to determine the specific time for each presentation. ∆