A Word About Why We Do This Work

By Andrew DeFranza

The following is an excerpt of Andrew’s speech at the Greater Beverly Chamber of Commerce Leadership Series event on 4/2/2017.

Glad to be here with all of you in this excellent place. Special thanks to John Somes and the good folks at the Greater Beverly Chamber of Commerce, my long time friend and missional co conspirator Meg Kelley, and our host the ever affable and sometimes injured Thomas Holland, of A&B Burger, and our excellent sponsors the Haights of Prevare LLC.

Harborlight Community Partners:

  • Who are we?
    • HCP is a long standing non profit organization affiliated with the First Baptist Church across the street. In some form or other this group has been active for decades trying to find ways to make sure economically vulnerable people were included in our community.
  • What do we do?
    • We are engaged in four main activities.
      1. We manage or support affordable housing throughout the region. We are currently involved with 366 units on the North Shore in 8 communities. This is soon to be 392 in 9 communities as we embark on a new project in Salem later this year. These are homes for seniors, working families, people with disabilities or those who were homeless.  You may know Turtle Creek, Turtle Woods or Harborlight House in Beverly.
      2. We also develop affordable housing including the permitting, community engagement and financing of projects. Right now we are working on 5 projects including a new and exciting concept on Sohier/Tozer Road in Beverly. We expect this to include over 220 units over the next decade.
      3. We work with key partners like the North Shore YMCA, Montserrat College of Art,  Lifebridge, Senior Care, Element Care, and North Shore Elder Services to build unique service models for our residents. Harborlight House for example is a one of a kind integrated housing and services model for frail low income seniors that allows them to age in place and avoid the expensive and dehumanizing experience of being forced to accept skilled nursing as housing of last resort.
      4. Finally, we are increasingly more active with public education and advocacy for various affordable housing concepts and opportunities.
    • We are mainly social entrepreneurs. We work with financial, land use and public systems to create and operate a product for people who need it but cannot afford to purchase it. This is much like other public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water and education.  Mainly though we work with community building and community relationships….which I suppose in some ways is how we got here.
  • Why? So why do we do this? We get asked this….a lot and lately have been thinking about ways to communicate our answer.
    • There is a tremendous need right now and it is rooted in economics, specifically the volume of people that do jobs or have fixed sources which earn incomes less than 60% Area Median Income (AMI) ($60,000 family of four) or 80% AMI ($75,000) and the manner which we create land use policy.  We think it is important to meet this need.
    • There are many, many people who are doing jobs which we depend on as a society but whose incomes in those jobs are not sufficient to secure housing in the market. The people who cut our grass, care for our children and our elderly parents, work in retail establishments, pour our coffee and our beer…. it should be possible for people who are in community with us to live as a member of that community
    • Furthermore our land use laws have elevated single family housing such that the majority of developable land in the State can only be built with single family housing. This creates a fabricated shortage which cannot meet the demand. Therefore we have an increase in price. Think of an intentional sibling initiated  kink in a hose when as a child you desperately wanted a drink…..  We made this problem and we enforce it to the real harm of real people.  Thankfully problems we cause we can fix.
    •  By way of demand  HCP has a number of buildings for seniors in the region. In five of those buildings we have 247 units and 623 people slotted on the waiting list. 252%. Most people will die on that list.

If you want to elevate this discussion really we at HCP want to decrease pain and  increase opportunity. Housing is the means to those ends as it were.

We want to reduce pain for people who are afraid and economically vulnerable. We want to provide them a demonstrable sign of community good will by making sure there are safe, affordable places for them to live. People who struggle with disabilities that impact their income, seniors who have labored in the community for decades who in their later years struggle to find a place to make a home, those who are homeless and need a supported opportunity to regain their independence and find ways to contribute.

We want to provide opportunity for working families to build a life. Places where children can grow up with stability knowing the support structure of a great school community, of youth sports, of local places of faith and local businesses. We want those kids to know they are wanted and included so they have a chance to make better lives for themselves and their children. That part is about giving people a chance. So that is who we are, what we do and why we do it. Simple I guess?

 

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Caring for others in the most mundane ways through hard work, compassion, kindness.

My name is Mike McFadden and I am the Turtle Creek maintenance man.  I have been working for Harborlight Community Partners (HCP) for over 8 years.  Here is my point of view on the work we do at HCP.

Andrew DeFranza, our executive director, asked me to give a few thoughts on my experience at HCP with regard to our company mission for our quarterly staff meeting. This is an odd task for me because my daily job in maintenance doesn’t normally find me pondering the philosophical underpinnings of our work. That being said I do think it’s important to regard that overarching ideal and try to find where in about the quality of care that we should strive for.  Namely, compassion, respect, kindness, hard work. This is the backbone of how to build communities.

It’s difficult in our day-to-day jobs to keep large picture concepts in mind and frankly, those kinds of themes don’t motivate me very much on a daily basis.  I can speak to what does, though.  

My role in maintenance is to take care of Turtle Creek. To keep the building in order I have to do many tasks, both big and small, and many go unremarked and largely unnoticed.  A visitor saw me sweeping leaves from a doorway one windy day and remarked, “That’s a thankless job.”  It is, for the most part, and that’s just fine.  Accomplishing a thankless job well is something to take pride in. We do the work because it needs to be done. No one ever donated to a nonprofit because their finance department can whip out awesome spreadsheets, or because the property manager got all the rent checks in on time.   We all, for the most part, have thankless jobs. You should celebrate that. When you input numbers into the cell and the bottom line comes out right, go get a high five from somebody.  All the walkways are clear of snow, go find someone to fist bump.  Take joy in small victories.

In maintenance I am part repairman, part janitor.  Another term might be custodian.  I feel this accurately describes what I do.  Take custody of your place. Say to yourself: “This is my building. Those are my residents”.  I’m as much a custodian of the bricks and mortar as I am of the people within those walls.  Care for your residents as individuals.  This part is not usually addressed but is so integral to providing homes instead of just housing.  Simple things like asking folks about their lives. “Where did they raise their families?  What did you do for a living?”  Let them show you pictures of their grandkids.  Share in their small victories.  I have a resident who goes swimming once a week and I always ask her if she had a great swim, not because I am all that interested in her lap times but because I know she looks forward to her time in the pool.  She’s always tickled when I ask and it puts a smile on her face. This is community.  

Caring for others in the most mundane ways through hard work, compassion, kindness.  Doing the thankless jobs well. Taking custody of the lives around you.  Celebrate small victories.  Keep sweeping leaves against the wind.  Thank you.

About our Guest Blogger: Mike McFadden is a lifelong Beverly resident and has served on Harborlight Community Partners’ maintenance staff team since 2008. 

 

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In this season I have you…my North Shore neighbors…on my mind

It’s a lovely day outside. A day that is desperately trying to move from Winter to Spring.  It is a move that requires a level of hope, tenacity, and priorities as my daffodils are showing me struggling through the snow.

In this season I have you…my North Shore neighbors…on my mind.

If you are struggling in this season either with too many pressures or too much self indulgence (or both) take a minute to think about what is most important to you.

What kind of community do you want to live in? What kind of world do you want your children or grandchildren to live in? What kind of character do we want our young people to aspire to?

Is it a world where kindness, character, and thinking about others are core priorities?

Is it a world that you hope for and are willing to set your mind on?

I am betting it is.

This is a special place full of many special people.

I am betting on all of us thinking beyond our own concerns and entertainments and making this a region marked by character and looking out for each other.

I am betting on you. I am grateful for you.

Here comes to warm weather. Let’s get to it.”

~ Andrew

 

 

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Affordable housing allows good people to stay on the North Shore

By Denise Frame Harlan

My husband Scott and I were living a charmed life, the spring I turned 34. We lived in the servants’ quarters of The Sargent House, a peeling gray museum in the heart of the historic district of Gloucester, Massachusetts. I needed one more year to complete grad Denise Harlan photoschool. Scott had just begun teaching at Landmark Middle School, and he was thrilled to do meaningful work. With free rent, in exchange for tour-guiding and household services, we were paying off our educations and our car, and we were managing our lives pretty well. I had worked as a college residence director for many years. We had run conference centers and served as live-in help. I had only paid 18 months of rent in my adult life, and I wanted to keep that number. Within a month of a positive pregnancy test, the museum announced a major renovation project—including the scraping of lead paint. We would need to leave immediately for the safety of the baby.

I clipped 40 classified ads over the next month, and taped them to a yellow legal pad. Each apartment I visited seemed worse than the last.

The curator of the museum suggested an affordable housing neighborhood called Haven Terrace. Scott and I walked up the staircase to find gorgeous views of Gloucester Harbor from light, airy condos. We chose a two-bedroom, 650 square feet in a smart design, at the cost of $49,000, and we moved in on our sixth wedding anniversary. As new neighbors, we all laid brick patios and power-washed the outdoor staircases—we all painted and weeded and grilled out when the landscape truck delivered mulch. By Christmas, our baby arrived and we truly settled in with our neighbors from Sierra Leone, Ireland, Costa Rica and Vietnam. If we had wondered what kind of people live in affordable housing, now we knew: we were teachers and school janitors and college professors, activists and social workers and single parents, veterans and musicians and restaurant owners.

Haven Terrace home drawn by one of Harlan’s children.

On Snow Days at Haven Terrace, our Parking Czar would phone, announcing the arrival of the snowplow, and every car would need to be cleared, moved, shuttled to another lot like those little games with plastic squares that shift, one car at a time. As the massive effort continued through the morning, I’d call around to organize vats of hot soup and quantities of coffee. All the neighbors would bring good food to share for a giant potluck feast after the parking lot was restored to order. The children would sled down Haven Terrace, with adults lining the sides of the road to keep everyone safe. It seemed like a miracle, on snow days, like the small town where I grew up.

Affordable housing allows good people to stay on the North Shore.

I do know Scott could not have stayed at Landmark without affordable housing. I could not have cared for our children, without affordable housing. I finished a graduate degree while we lived in affordable housing. We stayed on Haven Terrace for 13 years. By the time we left Haven Terrace, our condo had nearly doubled in value.

We recently purchased a home in Ipswich, and Scott is finishing year 20 at Landmark, the premiere school for students with language-based learning disabilities. I am completing my seventh year as an adjunct professor and writer. Without affordable housing, we would have taken our gifts to a cheaper part of the country. Because of affordable housing, we could stay on the North Shore, in jobs we cherish.

Our housing debt –for this home, on the marsh–is crushing for one full-time educator and one part-time educator, but we are still here. I would like to say we are scraping by, but we will be struggling as long as we live on the North Shore. We would be much worse off without that “leg up” offered by organizations like Harborlight. We are so thankful for those years on Haven Terrace, where our family could take root and thrive.

I would not have foreseen this life from the charmed age of 34, from our perch in the museum house. The teenagers are growing into adults, and we love our work. Haven Terrace shaped us, all of us. Many thanks to our former neighbors who continue to live there. Aren’t you glad to be there? We grew too big for the space we had chosen, but we think of you often.

Especially on snow days.

About our Guest Blogger

Denise Frame Harlan writes from the edge of The Great Marsh, where she lives with Scott and two kids who are no longer kids. Denise holds an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University. She teaches first-year writing and coaches teens through the college application essay. You can find links to her work at deniseframeharlan.com.

 

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In a lop-sided world, we have a lot to share.

By Sarah Bartley

My eyes were glued to the paper. The Globe didn’t interview me,  I thought, but oh man, they sure explained my life. 

img_2545I grew up in a two-bedroom, second-floor apartment that anchored a quiet street, lined by a mix of single-family and two-family homes with yards. I fondly remember it as a small town known for high-quality schools, a bustling public library, and a municipal swimming pool. There is absolutely no reason my mother and I should have afforded to live in that community.

In fact, we almost didn’t live there. When I was in Kindergarten we lived in a neighboring city in a tiny walk-up apartment above a store-front. That apartment was hardly in our price-range.

But then an amazing thing happened. We began attending a church where someone connected us to an elderly widow who owned four apartments nearby. She took a chance on us and, out of both kindness and convenience, rented to us for a stable, below market-rate price for the 15-years, coinciding with my school career. My story is rare ”we were both extraordinarily fortunate and privileged.

When we lived there, the town graduation rate was nearly 100%. There was an 11:1 ratio of teachers to students. The vast majority graduated fully expecting to attend college or a trade school. My point in telling my story is to highlight how where I happened to live influenced my educational trajectory. Location also opened access to adult-mentors and extracurricular activities. I lived a different kind of childhood because my family found affordable housing in a community that had a lot to share.

The handful of cities and towns that make up the North Shore also have a lot to share. While there is always room for improvement, we no doubt have some good schools. We have some thriving businesses, beautiful parks, and generous people. I suspect that is the reason our communities can also be at times resistant to the creation of affordable housing. What if, we might wonder, the resources get spread too thin? Will our communities change?

Back to that article   I picked up. The Globe has been looking at how income disparities are reshaping our region. They found that just 21 percent of federally subsidized units in Eastern Massachusetts are in so-called high-opportunity neighborhoods, with ready access to jobs, healthy food, and quality schools.  When suburban communities do create affordable housing, it’s often restricted for seniors to avoid adding more children to the schools. Politics and inertia have conspired to create a lopsided geography of affordable housing. 

This means that stories like mine really are rare. I am sure we can all agree that all children in all neighborhoods deserve an equal chance at life. That is what we should be striving for. But as I think about what my community has to offer, I believe we hold the keys to a very special opportunity to share. When opportunities to create family-friendly affordable housing arise, I hope we will say yes more often.

About our Guest Blogger:

Sarah Bartley is a Beverly resident and active with local organizations who serve families experiencing homelessness.

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Facing Food Insecurity: Nourishing our Neighbors

By Stacey Verge, Executive Director, Acord Food Pantry

Did you realize that 1 in 8 people in Massachusetts suffer from food insecurity?

Most people don’t realize just how prevalent food insecurity is within their own towns and neighborhoods.   Acord Food Pantry in Hamilton is here to help those who suffer from food insecurity here on the North Shore.   We support 4,000 visits each year as we work acord-logo-stamp_finaltowards our mission of empowering individuals and families to feed themselves in a nutritionally balanced way.     We are so   fortunate to be housed in a Harborlight Community Partners owned building, Firehouse Place (which houses four affordable units).   HCP allows us to provide our invaluable services to so many in the community by giving Acord a great place to operate our food pantry.

At Acord, we serve many people who are in need from all walks of life those who are elderly and on a fixed income (including HCP residents), those who are disabled, those who are going through a rough patch and need a little assistance and even those who are employed. The high cost of living can mean that even those who are employed full time still can’t cover all of their bills and provide healthy food for their families. Acord relies on many others to help us provide food assistance and other client programs. We receive so much support and so many contributions from businesses, foundations and individual donors.   Local farms help to provide fresh, local produce.   Schools teach service to their students by organizing food drives.     Local businesses hold food drives and collect monetary donations.   We have over 100 volunteers who give so much of themselves every month.   And even Tony,  an HCP Firehouse Place resident, takes in our empty barrels and keeps an eye on things, especially in the winter months..

Acord could not do what we do without the support of so many community partners, such a HCP. Working together to help out those in need in our communities makes all of our communities much stronger.

As we head into the holiday season, filled with family gatherings, holiday planning and celebrations, please take some time out to be thankful for all that you have and remember your neighbors who may need a little extra assistance. And maybe reach out to those organizations who help to take care of those who are most vulnerable in our communities.

About our Guest Blogger:

Stacey Verge has served as the Executive Director of Acord for over two years, and loves   working someplace where most of the phone calls and emails she   receives are from people offering to help out in some way. It renews your faith in people. 

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Sowing the Seeds of Empathy With Technology?

By Rich Lehrer

A unique 3D printing partnership leads to deep learning and new friendships – for a group of 6th grade students

In May, 2016, fellow Brookwood School teacher, Annie Johnson, and I had one of the most transformative experiences of our respective teaching careers when a small group of our 6th lehrerrichgrade students participated in an authentic 3D designing and printing relationship with the residents of Harborlight House in Beverly all documented in a wonderful WGBH Design Squad Global video.

This week-long experience was the culmination of what has been a three-year deep dive  into an incredibly exciting and innovated educational initiative we have been piloting at Brookwood: The use of human centered design and purposeful and authentic 3D printing to teach middle school students how to consider another’s perspective and to, potentially, become more empathic.

This journey started for our school in 2013 when, after seeing an inspirational Youtube video on the first open-sourced, 3D printable prosthetic, I engaged a group of students in an exceptional year-long pursuit: the creation of a mechanical prosthetic device for my son. When, quite surprisingly, the project actually ended successfully with my son using the device my students had built, it was clear we now had a powerful and tangible example of the power of this new technology to effect real change in the life of another person.

hand-device

Over the past two years, Brookwood School has begun to break some interesting ground in the use of authentic 3D designing and printing to teach empathy to our students. In addition to becoming one of the leading collaborators with the global 3D printed prosthetic group, the Enable Community Foundation, in 2014 we created a unique initiative called the Brookwood 3D Design Problem Bank. In this project anyone from our community can post a problem in need of a 3D designed solution to a website we have created and our students become the inventors (in the true sense of the work) who spend time considering the point of view of the problem poster  and then design, iterate, print and share the solutions they have created.

Last year, drawing on these and other projects, Annie proposed an interesting extension of this authentic community designing work during our planning of a one-week experiential 3D printing course for a group of 6th grade girls. Her idea? Taking our students out of the school and into the community to have them work with a group of seniors from Harborlight House seniors affordable housing residence to design and print assistive devices that might, in some way, be of use to the residents.

This idea of having students engage in this work with a group of adults they had never met and who might also not be familiar with 3D printing promised to push us all outside of our comfort zone – but the potential for huge educational payoff, not only in terms these girls’ problem solving experiences and growth but also in terms of creating empathic connections between our independent school students and residents of an affordable housing facility while breaking ground for other schools to do this sort of work, seemed very promising. After Annie reached out to Andrew DeFranza, Harborlight Community Partners Executive Director, and he was on board we were on our way.

In May, after Harborlight Community Partners representatives Deanna Fay and Karen Estey visited the school to tell our students a little more about Harborlight House, students were given a chance to ask questions in order to further their understanding of affordable housing, the residents with whom they would be collaborating, and the types of problems in need of a 3D printed solution they might encounter. We then spent two days preparing the students for their first visit, teaching them design skills, having them practice solving problems with 3D printing, and exploring the issue of empathy and how putting themselves in the place of the people with whom they will be collaborating could be the most important key to effective problem solving. By the time the first of the three days we had allotted for this project arrived, and our students entered Harborlight House and were introduced to a group of five residents, they were excited at the prospect of beginning ¦if not a little nervous.

Students began by doing a small presentation on 3D printing for the residents and shared some of the solutions they had been designing as well as several 3D printed prosthetics that classmates had built. residentThe response from the residents could not have been more wonderful. Excellent questions, sincere interest in the previous work of the students, and a genuine appreciate for the power of this technology abounded. Any trepidation that the students had been feeling melted away when students in pairs or by themselves broke off to begin interviewing for empathy.  Students introduced themselves and began asking questions about the residents’ interests, living situation, and past.

As we had rehearsed, these burgeoning engineers then began to steer the conversations toward the types of challenges residents or their friends might be facing for which there could be a potential 3D printed solution. The students heard how arthritis was making it difficult for some of the residents to do things that had once been easy: turning keys in locks, holding tablets during long Skype sessions, safely cutting bagels, and even holding cutlery. Students also heard about how some of these challenges were affecting residents’ daily lives when, for example, the difficulties associated with picking up small plastic Bingo chips was discouraging residents from coming down to engage in some much needed social interactions. After over an hour of lively discussions, brainstorming, trips to residents’ apartments, and measuring, our students headed back to school with a number of very promising problems to solve.

bingo         toast

For the following two days, students brainstormed solutions, created prototypes out of conventional materials such as cardboard and duct tape, began to produce their first digital iterations using the free online designing program, Tinkercad, and 3D printed these first draft  versions of their inventions. The next day we headed back to Harborlight House to reconfirm measurements, have residents try out first iterations, and provide feedback for students. We headed back to the lab to continue refining, printing, and testing and by the third day, student inventions were ready to be shared. Students and residents met in the dining room to celebrate the friendships formed, the collaborations and relationships that resulted in some wonderful assistive inventions and of course to reveal the solutions themselves. From Noffee  coffee cup spill catchers, to E-Z Grab  Bingo chips, to Safe-T-Bagel  cutter, and the Key Sleeve , students proudly presented their inventions and residents were delighted in their functionality.

resident2       resident3

Both Annie and I were struck with how the shared purpose and collaborative nature of this project broke down any barriers between these seniors and children and the relationships that were formed provided a means for our students to develop a newfound understanding of the lives of seniors in an affordable housing facility. Residents clearly appreciated the students’ willingness to both work with them to create the assistive devices and acknowledge the importance of considering a perspective other than their own in the pursuit of a collaboratively solved problem. We have no doubt that we are on the way to something very special with this work if the incredibly positive responses from people with whom I shared our project at the World Maker Faire in New York City are anything to go by – and we look forward to further collaborations between Brookwood School and Harborlight Community Partners.

groupAbout our Guest Blogger:

Rich Lehrer is a teacher and the Innovation Coordinator at the Brookwood School in Manchester, MA.   He is a graduate of the University of Regina, B.S.; University of British Columbia, B.Ed.; and The College of New Jersey, M.Ed.

Brookwood School’s D-Zign Girlz Steep Week class, co-taught  by Rich Lehrer and Annie Johnson  are the  recipients of Harborlight Community Partner’s  2016 Celebration of Partnerships, Service Partner Award for the Harborlight House collaborative project described in this article.  

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For all of YOU a word of encouragement – Andrew’s WIHED Award remarks, 9/20/2016

by Andrew DeFranza

Harborlight Community Partners’, Andrew DeFranza, was among those honored at the  Women’s  Institute for  Housing and Economic Development (WIHED),  35th Anniversary Annual Meeting on September 20th. The following are  Andrew’s acceptance remarks as the recipient of WIHED’s  2016  Anne Gelbspan Partners in Community Award.

On behalf of HCP thank you for having us here.   It is an honor to receive this award and be mentioned with Ann Gelpsban.

Anne Gelbspan and Andrew DeFranza

Anne Gelbspan and Andrew DeFranza

Thank you to our staff who are the ones who work out our missional commitments day after day.

Thank you to our Board who invest their time, money and networks into this effort.

Thank you to our residents and supporters, our community leaders, and partners like The Life Initiative, and the ever courageous Kristin Harol.

Thank you especially to our friends at WIHED.

As I am fortunate to be here tonight in the wonderful company of my ten year old daughter it is a joy for me to introduce her to such smart, bold, missional, and strong leaders. Thank you all for that. Let’s hope for more glass ceilings to be broken in the near term so she can see more possibilities, and dream bigger dreams.

For all of YOU a word of encouragement.

It is not easy ¦this work we all do together. Some days are harder than others, but you do it anyway.

Not simple, but critical. All of you in your efforts are making a large impact on people who need you. People you may never meet but who count on you.

All of you are a part of making sure that important members of our society are not economically excluded.

When you review those plans, negotiate the price on credits, solve that construction problem, build community well, host that neighborhood meeting, and advocate for better policies (like by-right multi family zoning), when you do this you are making homes for seniors, families and people with disabilities. Not easy.

You do that WIHED, and you are doing it well.

When we were kids my mother in an effort to prioritize what is good used to say, Andrew, you make that shirt look good.  It is in our humanity, our souls, that the good is present, Not in the packaging. The one derives its good from the other was the point.

In that same vein I would say to all of you ¦. You make this mission look good. 

Here is to you. May you have the courage, patience, and endurance to carry this mission on.

About  the Anne Gelspan Partners in Community Award (from WIHED):  

The Partners in Community Award has been created to honor our beloved colleague, Anne Gelbspan. Anne retired at the end of 2011 after working with the Women’s Institute for over twenty years, creating much-needed housing for homeless and at-risk families and partnering with countless organizations and communities in Massachusetts. Anne’s commitment to her work, partners, and industry reached far beyond the many affordable housing projects she shepherded to reality. For her, it was not only the unit-count of the much-needed housing we created. Anne’s vision looked further to how we truly create community  ”bringing people, partners, organizations, and towns together in a common purpose to offer greater opportunity for all. Never one to rest, even in retirement, Anne continues this convening work today in her home community of Jamaica Plain. The Women’s Institute is proud to honor the work and spirit of our long-time friend by recognizing others with a like-minded vision and excellence in their own communities.

 

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One Pathway to Housing: Let’s Consider Zoning

By  Robert  Gillis

bobgLocal town and city zoning ordinances reflect a community’s desire to maintain its character and stability. This makes sense.   None of us wants dramatic changes to our neighborhoods which could adversely affect our collective quality of life.     Zoning strategies used toward this end in our North Shore communities include increasing the minimum lot sizes upon which to build new homes and eliminating or restricting the ability to build multi-family housing.  These restrictions were also put into place to prevent excessive auto traffic, over-burdening the public schools, and stress on public works, such as sewer systems.

One consequence of these zoning restrictions is that there is an insufficient supply of new housing being built to accommodate the demand for decent, affordable housing. So, demand exceeds supply and prices go up for both apartment rentals and home ownership. Basic economics.

As housing prices accelerate, those folks among us earning less than median income have a harder time keeping up. We might not think about it, but we all know people in our communities making less than median income.   They might be our neighbors, people who wait on us in a restaurant or supermarket, or perhaps even family members. These are people who are quietly struggling to make ends meet.   They might be young families, seniors living on fixed incomes, working people, and folks with disabilities.   They are typically paying too high a percentage of their incomes than is affordable and/or live in inadequate conditions.   Exacerbating this is that, according to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership report Unlocking the Commonwealth, instead of responding to the need for housing for these folks with increased production, the state has produced less housing. In addition, there has been a shift away from multifamily housing and toward more single-family homes and larger lots. This option is out of reach for many of these families of median and lower income.

Zoning reform legislation in Massachusetts was recently introduced and passed the Senate ( An Act Promoting Housing and Sustainable Development  S.2311) but did not make it through the House of Representatives.   The issue needs to remain in the forefront in order for our communities to meet the needs of all our citizens.  Zoning is by far the most difficult hurdle to overcome when working to preserve or create affordable housing for families in our area.   The Massachusetts Housing Partnership asserts that the primary cause of the affordable housing crisis is restrictive local zoning laws.     With this in mind, Harborlight Community Partners is working with local and state leaders and housing advocates to create an impactful dialogue around local zoning.

I am proud to represent Harborlight Community Partners, an organization which has as its mission to address the housing needs of people at the lower end of the income scale. Harborlight does this well. The challenge we have is clear.   Working with great organizations like Harborlight Community Partners we really can improve the lives of many and make our communities better.

Robert J. Gillis, Jr., President

Harborlight Community Partners

 

About our Guest Blogger:

Robert J. Gillis Jr. is Executive Vice-President of Cape Ann Savings Bank. Bob has been with the bank for many years, and knows the Cape Ann community well. In that time, Bob has served as  president of the Rockport Rotary Club, president of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, and has served on the board of directors for the Community Land Trust of Cape Ann,  The Open Door community food pantry,    and the Cape Ann YMCA. Bob loves connecting with people and making an impact for those in need.

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Look in the mirror

FullSizeRenderBy Jason Silva

To me, it’s actually pretty simple. People deserve a safe place to live and call home. Let’s do this.

When you hear the words affordable housing what comes to mind? Think about it for a second. What does it look like? Who lives there? Where is it located? Here’s what comes to mind for me.

A family with a single mother of 5 kids, 3 boys and 2 girls. Unfortunately, this family had financial difficulties and was evicted from their apartment. Thankfully, they had a network of family to take them in and had enough space to allow them to stay for a few years. Without this, this family would have been homeless. After waiting 3 years, they were granted an apartment in a public housing development. Believe it or not, it was a great place to raise a family tons of kids and families, a basketball court, huge playing fields and, most importantly, a roof over the family’s collective head.

This apartment, along with support from friends and their extended family, allowed this family to get back on track. Eventually, they were able to move out of public housing and into a home which they owned. All of this made the dream of owning a home a reality, one that just 10 years before seemed impossible.

I’m going to now focus on the oldest of the kids, one of the 3 boys. He was a shy, quiet, short and skinny kid. He was a decent student and heavily influenced by not only his mom, but by his grandparents too, who helped raise all the kids in the family. He was addicted to basketball. He played every day. It occupied all of his free time. He learned a lot from basketball hard work, team work, communication, relationship building. All of which he needed to learn.

He received support from an extended family of friends and also from a network of amazing people in the community. As he moved through school he met his high school sweetheart, who he ultimately married. Her support was critical to his success in high school and college.

Upon graduation, influenced by his experience growing up, he decided he wanted to go into public service. He interned in Washington DC, worked on political campaigns, and for an advocacy group, local and state government and a non-profit. He also decided to run for office locally, with the intent to give back to the community that gave him and his family so much. He’s now serving his 3rd term on the City Council.

Personally, he just celebrated his 12th wedding anniversary, owns a home and has 3 young boys he loves very much.

So, you’ve probably guessed by now that this story is my own. I share it because it tells a story of what a safe, affordable home can mean to a family and an individual. It is also a great example of the importance of a community – an extended network of support – that cares about those that need help.

People and families who need housing – affordable, workforce, low-income housing – aren’t scary or dangerous or faceless. Look in the mirror. They’re people like you and me. People, who if given a chance, can reach success and happiness. They’re our friends and neighbors. Their kids attend the same schools, are in the same classes and play in the same parks. They want the same things.

Remember too, affordable housing should be offered in everyone’s neighborhood. It should be built well, should look attractive and be of high-quality.

About our Guest Blogger:

Jason Silva is currently serving his third term on the Beverly City Council.  Silva has extensive experience as a public servant having worked for local and state governments, in the non-profit sector and for an advocacy organization. He has also worked at all levels in the political arena.   He is a graduate of Salem State University and is currently attending Suffolk University.

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