The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 1, 2002


What happened to affordable housing in Carlisle?

With the demise of the not-for-profit Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc. (not to be confused with the Carlisle Housing Authority), the town has taken a step back in the process of developing affordable housing in town.

Does Carlisle need more affordable housing? The people of Carlisle, and especially our children, would benefit from living in a community that contained more economic diversity.

Even if we don't think we need more affordable housing, the state legislature does. The Commonwealth set a goal that every town should have at least 10 percent of its housing stock qualify as "affordable." Carlisle has one percent. If a town does not meet the 10 percent guideline (or at least show that it was making an effort), then the town's residential zoning regulations could be set aside under the comprehensive permit process. Under this procedure, a builder could bypass Carlisle's two-acre minimum lot size, as long as a portion of the high-density development was sold as affordable housing.

Why not let a private builder help us reach our affordable housing guideline? The main concern is lack of town oversight and control. Would the town have enough control of high-density comprehensive permit developments to prevent the character of the town from being significantly changed? What about the long-term safety of the water supply in the neighborhood of a high-density development? Also, if the town or housing authority administers the affordable housing, there is a greater assurance that it will remain as affordable housing in the future.

Carlisle is vulnerable to comprehensive permit developments, since voters have consistently rejected the housing authority's proposals: to place 18 units on the Conant Land in 1989, to build six units at 84 Russell Street in the mid '90s, and another proposal to build seven units on the Conant Land in 2000. The recent plan to build housing on the Town Forest land faces legal hurdles. With the disbanding of the private Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc., the state is being sent the message that the town is tired of trying to meet the state requirements.

Why have all the affordable housing proposals been defeated? The housing authority has proposed plans that use town-owned lands to reduce the project costs. The parcels were not protected as conservation land, but for every site, there have been enough residents who disapprove of changing the character of that parcel to defeat the plan.

Perhaps it is time for a different approach. If the town obtained about ten acres of land for the express purpose of building affordable housing (or affordable housing coupled with other municipal uses such as recreation facilities), then Town Meeting might finally agree to create affordable housing.

It may well be difficult for the town to acquire land, given the current fiscal constraints. One way for the town to try this approach might be for a group of volunteers to create a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that could work with potential benefactors, and accept tax-deductible donations, gifts or bargain-sales of land. The job of helping the town acquire land for affordable housing requires a different skill set from the jobs of building or administering such housing.

Many thanks are due to all those residents who served over the years on Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc. They volunteered many hours of their time to help the town. Their focus was on how to design and build affordable housing. Once the town finds a suitable site, their expertise will be needed once again.

On being Catholic

"Lead, Kindly Light,

Amid the encircling gloom

till the night is gone.

John Henry Cardinal Newman

There is a haggard beauty about the Curve Street bog that abides in all seasons. So it is with the Church into which I was born and baptized and from which I strayed and returned. But each dawn these days, the bad news slaps down on my driveway with the Globe's morning edition. Pictures of priests, dreary headlines. I look up and expect to see Globe carrion birds Eileen McNamara and Joan Vennochi perched on the phone wire, glowering.

I, too, am a reporter. I've worked with some of those Globe Spotlighters Matt Carroll, Walter Robinson. I hope they get their Pulitzer. I fear, though, that there's a witchy hysteria abroad. It will take years to sort out innocence and guilt. But imagine a priest, ordained to act "in the person of Christ," sexually abusing children. Repugnant.

Scandal and sin in the Church shouldn't surprise us. It is, after all, a refuge of sinners (Refugio Peccatorum). God's mercy is boundless. But it should not be a refuge for criminals. Cardinal Bernard Law's culpable soul will be plucked clean by us media buzzards. But we're learning now that judges and even defense attorneys were in on the conspiracy of silence. Shame on us all.

Talk radio's amateur theologians and psychologists blame celibacy and the lack of women priests. Did Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux, Doctors of the Church, lack priestly ambitions? Were they just "culture bound?" Was the Son of Man "culture bound" when He passed over a circle of valiant, faithful women to make apostles of bickering louts he knew would abandon Him in the clutch? Mysteries.

Pope Paul VI, vilified because he wasn't fat or cute like his predecessor, lamented thirty years ago that "the smoke of Satan" had entered the Church. That's Saturday Night Live talk. Laughable. But the evidence would suggest that where there was smoke there is now fire. And no one is laughing.

For my part, I've lamented a generation of frivolous liturgical improvisations and endless homilies seemingly launched by the Beatles refrain, "love is all you need." I've had to stay up for the midnight televangelist in the mauve suit to be reminded of the Fall, the Redemption and the Judgment.

By the way, I, too, was once an inner city Boston altar boy. I met holy, scholarly or just ordinary priests. But none ever touched me unless you count the time a candle ignited my starched linen surplice and Father McAndrews, an ex-Marine, knocked down the flames with four swift body blows.

That other flame, that "Kindly Light" of John Henry Newman's soul-sick prayer, ultimately led this devout Anglican to the Church of Rome the Church he called "forever old, forever new."

The English convert Evelyn Waugh, when asked why he reverenced the authority of established institutions such as the army and the Catholic Church, replied tartly, "I reverence the Catholic Church because it is true, not because it is established or an institution." I share that reverence.

But each dawn, before more bad news arrives, I pray for that Kindly Light to lead us out of this darkness ­ "till the night is gone."

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito