Friday, September 28, 2007
Setbacks at issuefor Benfield housing proposal
"There's a lot here I really like," concluded Tim Hult, Board of Selectmen (BOS) chair, after hearing Alan Lehotsky's presentation of the Housing Authority plan for moving forward with 26 units of senior affordable housing on the Benfield Land on South Street. He spoke for the BOS in thanking the Housing Authority and Assistant Administrator Elizabeth Barnett for maintaining momentum, collaborating with other boards, focusing on seniors, and reducing the footprint. "I'm very encouraged," he added, but "there are quite reasonable concerns by neighbors and abutters." Those concerns were amply expressed later in the meeting, when several advocated for larger set- backs. The BOS took no action other than to sign the restrictions and land transfer required for the project to move forward, and will vote on the proposal at the next BOS meeting.
Lehotsky pointed to the research his group had done, including information exchanges with other towns, understanding state and federal regulations, getting feedback at the Housing Summit in May, coordinating with other committees, the senior housing development Carlisle Village Court, and undertaking field trips to Dover, Lincoln, Wayland, and other towns.
"We learned that many seniors are finding it difficult to afford to stay in Carlisle," Lehotsky noted. Village Court is not appropriate for many needs because it has no elevator, contains one laundry area that requires carrying clothes to another building, and provides services only on a case-by-case basis. The senior population is currently17% of the town, and this is expected to rise to 30% within the next few years.
The Housing Authority also heard that "abutters support affordable housing, but asked us to show them a smaller footprint." The proposed senior development would be 60 % smaller than the same number of family units, with square footage per unit between 600 and 900, as opposed to 1200 to 1400. In with disabilities she is not aware of because they are not availing themselves of DMR services. Of the 15 clients, four are currently between the ages of 18 and 21 when families must start planning for the transition to Adult Services, which occurs at age 22. Adult Services attempt to maximize the independence of clients by providing residential placement, employment, work training, day programs, and family support as needed. The DMR's goal is to keep clients in their communities, if an appropriate facility is available, where they can continue to have the assistance of family and friends.
As there is no group home in Carlisle, the four transitioning clients must look to other towns. In addition, there are four other clients from Carlisle who have recently been placed in out-of-town group homes. Although there are homes in several nearby towns, in most cases, the preference would be to reside in Carlisle. Each occupant of a group home counts as a unit of affordable housing for the purposes of satisfying 40B requirements. Chapter 40B is a state law that allows developers to circumvent local zoning in towns with insufficient affordable housing.
Single homes fit in
Coyne said a typical group home would have four to five clients of a similar age and level of disability, although criteria for groupings can be flexible. Depending on needs, staffing may be 24 hours except when individuals are at work or day programs. DMR provides transportation to programs and planned outings. Once a placement is made, the goal is to keep a client in the same home for many years, so accessibility is important even for the young and able.
While there may be some resistance up front, most towns come to embrace their disabled citizens. Coyne smiled as she described Minuteman ARC clients marching in the West Concord parade. She observed that these residents have become part of the town's fabric, working in the stores, and even volunteering to serve meals for Open Table. "Once you meet the folks, you can't help but want them to become part of your community."
Two programs provide full funding
Small noted there are two programs for funding facilities for the disabled; the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Chapter 689 and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 811. The first provides housing for clients of the DMR through a grant to the town's Housing Authority, which then owns the building. Maintenance and administrative overhead is covered by rent, which may be up to $235 per month depending on the client's ability to pay. Client services continue to be provided by the DMR.
The other type of grant, HUD 811, provides development grants and subsidies for those who can't afford market rents. A grant is issued in the form of a 30-year loan at 0% interest, but as long as the housing remains for the disabled, the loan is not collected. Recipients of subsidies must have income below 50% of the area's median — in our region, less than $29,450. Mentally disabled clients "are well within that," said Coyne, noting that those who are unable to work receive $8,604 from social security. Because clients tend to be very low income, collected rents may not cover costs with DHCD 689 grants, but HUD 811 eliminates that problem with its rent subsidy.
Coming up with a plan
The glow of learning a project could be paid for using government money was dampened when Small noted that DHCD 689 funding is currently dry. However, she encouraged moving ahead with both types of grants in the hopes of future funding or the collapse of a project previously approved. HUD 811 grants are accepted in May with awards in December. Small believed HUD grants usually require site control, while the DHCD is more flexible.
Susan Stamps wondered if converting an existing home, maybe one on the market a long time, was feasible. Small said that approach had not been tried in "many, many years" due to the high cost to make an older house conform to requirements. John Rizzi noted it might be worth investigating the purchase of a tear-down on a non-conforming lot.
One issue to be resolved is transportation. DMR provides transport for work, day programs, appointments, and outings, but that is typically in conjunction with public and other methods. Coyne suggested contacting the Council on Aging regarding use of their van and lobbying the MBTA to expand The Ride, which ferries disabled people by appointment. Currently The Ride extends only as far as Concord.
After noting the Housing Authority's commitment to pursuing options for group homes, Lehotsky called on Catherine and Victor Carpenter for their perspective. Victor Carpenter, a resident of Belmont, is the interim minister at the First Religious Society on Church Street. The Carpenters spoke of their relief at being able to place their disabled daughter in a "safe, community development" in Newton where there was a "tight-knit community." They urged the Housing Authority to move ahead with a group home in Carlisle.
© 2007 The