A few thoughts about our year in Hamilton: part 2

Good evening.

After the Hamilton Board of Selectmen meeting on May 1, 2017 Harborlight Community Partners (HCP) has received numerous requests to address some key items raised in that meeting and over the last year and a half. This is the second of two short pieces meant to be our public response (first piece) While this is in no way a comprehensive explanation, we hope it will provide clarity on our perspective and next steps.

Technical Concerns:

Questions of water supply/quality, drainage, septic treatment, frontage, traffic, landscape screening, lighting and many other very legitimate questions. How can these be dealt with in a safe, effective, and contextually sensitive manner?

HCP values contextually sensitive development and will do everything we can within our power to address such concerns so as long as the solutions are aligned with our mission and the project remains viable. Solutions sometimes are as simple as reorienting a building, using special light fixtures or heights, moving driveways, honoring environmental buffer zones, using enhanced water treatment and conservation equipment, and changing design.

We are eager to address genuine concerns over technical matters; however, we have no interest in wasting valuable time and effort addressing disingenuous concerns which are merely tools to obstruct housing progress.

Concerns about the Size or Style of Housing:

Questions about height, set back distances, building massing and layout, and type—apartments vs. attached townhouses vs. single family homes.

Even though we are not required to do so, HCP consistently seeks to remain under the height limit for a single-family house as well as outside the buffer zones and setbacks. Smaller housing developments cost more to build; therefore, should HCP need to increase revenue to offset legal fees brought by opponents, we may be forced to increase the height and size of the project.

We often hear that the “ideal” community is made up of only single family homes and that any other style of housing will somehow mar the aesthetics of a town. It is not possible to meet the Town’s housing goals of 200+ or regional and local needs without using some multi-unit structures. It has been mentioned lately that in general the community would prefer a diffusion of 20-40 unit projects so there appears to be support for modest multi family housing in the abstract. However, this strategy assumes that 5-10 different neighborhoods would need to host a building to meet the goals without any abutter appeals. While HCP is willing to do this but based on the last year of experience it seems very unlikely that 5-10 neighborhoods would be found. HCP is committed to creating buildings with complimentary style and materials to those in the host community, to create a structure that any community will be proud of. We would never compromise the physical character of a town with a poorly designed or ill-fitting building; to do so would stigmatize potential residents of these homes and create wider resentment undermining residents’ welcome into the community. That, too, would be incongruous with our missional goals. We believe that a multi-family building, well designed and located, does not detract from the community style.

Concerns about Property Values and Real Estate Taxes:

HCP is sympathetic to the fear that affordable housing could impact impacting a major family asset. We respect that people are truly concerned about the potential loss of wealth if a home depreciates in value but we believe that studies of housing value neighboring affordable developments prove these fears are unfounded (see “On the Ground: 40B Developments Before and After” by Tufts University).  Local data from Larch Row in Wenham or near Bearskin Neck in Rockport also support the finding that affordable housing development does not negatively impact property value.

Some have expressed concern that because HCP is a non-profit it will not pay property taxes resulting in a burden to the Town. HCP pays property taxes on all its sites. Please link HERE for more information.

Concerns about the “Kinds of People” who live in Affordable Housing:

HCP is willing to work with communities to support some measure of local preference within the guidelines allowed by the Department of Housing and Community Development and consistent with the Town’s support of the project. Local preference would not be made available if a project is appealed. At the same time, questions about the “kinds of people” who live in affordable housing require several points in response.

First, some have suggested HCP develop only senior housing, believing that seniors pose less of a threat, or cost, to the community than others but we believe good neighbors can be found among people of any age. HCP will not pursue the creation of 200 units of affordable housing solely dedicated to senior housing because affordable housing is needed by our neighbors in all stages of life.

Second, concerns about the impact on the school system have been voiced on more than one occasion. Because we are proposing a mix of senior and family housing, we believe some children would participate in the local school system and that this would be a benefit both to new students and those currently enrolled in local schools. Children of families that would qualify for HCP housing are no different from children already living in Town: Some are gifted, others are average; some have unique needs, others unique talents. Such children would hardly create blight on the school system. On the contrary, we believe that offering children the opportunity to participate in quality public schools provides the chance to change their lives and the lives of their family members for generations to come.

Third, we have heard from some Hamilton residents thinly veiled concerns of the “threat” that affordable housing could bring to the town not only economic diversity but also ethnic diversity. As an organization, HCP is committed to non-discrimination in housing. We would hope that neighbors would share similar values. Families of varied ethnicities and incomes who may live in this housing seek the same goals of current residents: a lovely community, safe place to raise children, schools in which children can blossom and thrive, a community of neighbors who support and care about each other. There is little that separates families and seniors who would seek this housing and those who currently enjoy this community. In the words of the poet May Angelou “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” We believe that that the presence of people from a variety of backgrounds does not weaken but strengthens the character of a community.

Fourth, we have heard concerns that those who qualify for affordable housing could negatively impact the community. HCP often chooses to provide housing at the 60% area median income (AMI) level. That means that for 2017, for example, the income of a household of four people would be $62,040; for a single person, $43,440. To have units counted toward 40B, the state requires housing targeted at least to those with incomes below 80% AMI: for a family of four, $82,720, and for single person, $57,920. Those eligible for HCP housing would include many of the town’s new teachers, school and town clerical staff, staff at local markets and restaurants, people who care for your children or elderly parents, who cut your grass, care for your horses, and keep your homes in good repair.

We are firmly committed to the idea that income—whether high, medium, or low—is no measure of character.

We expect that most residents of Hamilton would agree. We know, intrinsically, and believe the people of Hamilton do as well, that those with less income are not a threat to you, your children, or your community. We suggest that if one holds such a belief, it says more of the character of one who holds it than it does of any potential resident of affordable housing.

Last, in the course of the past 14 months, it has been said more than once that we should not build affordable housing in Hamilton because future residents will be ill-treated and ostracized by their neighbors. We encourage you as a community to examine that sentiment. Any ill-treatment of neighbors is hardly due to the moral failing of the new resident. We believe people of the Town of Hamilton are better than that.

In Conclusion

HCP believes that the Town of Hamilton will address the real housing need in its Housing Production Plan, work toward its 40B commitment, and participate in doing its part, as other communities have, on meeting the needs of the region (see Unlocking the Commonwealth for more info).

HCP clearly wants to partner with the Town of Hamilton to create 200+ affordable housing units in Town over the next 10-20 years. Were we not so committed, we would not have invested so much time and resources in this process. HCP did not have to do so. Because of state requirements, HCP could have chosen a very different path that involved more speed, less community involvement, and much larger structures. Instead, we consistently strive to support an effort that will create housing which is contextually sensitive in Hamilton, financially viable, and missional consistent for HCP.

HCP does plan to pursue a first project in the near term. We will evaluate the three projects originally proposed by the HAHT to the Board of Selectmen.

Regarding the sites recently considered by the AHT and BOS: it is unlikely HCP would do anything with the Gordon-Conwell site in the near term, as it requires significant technical evaluation work (which will take more time), but it is possible in the future. We are seriously looking at 13 Essex Street and Longmeadow Way as the most likely locations for a first project. We would much prefer to partner with the Town to do smaller projects (i.e. 25-50 units) at either location, with the majority of the site used for other purposes such as a public park, historic preservation, or school use. However, this can only be done if there are other uses for the portion of the land not used for housing and if abutters agree not to appeal a smaller housing building. Threats of appeals will result in a proposal of a larger number of units necessary to cover legal fees. As this becomes clearer in the short term, we will provide additional information as soon as we are able.

We waited for 14 months after committing to wait for 3 months because we hoped for something greater and of more value than any one project. We hoped that Hamilton could be a leader, a model community showing the State that a small affluent community could proactively figure out how to create affordable housing that would be supported in Town. We still believe this is possible. We have met many nice folks in town who are supportive of affordable housing in theory. Now is the time to take these good intentions and turn them into a modest but steady flow of actual housing creation that is economically accessible to workers and seniors. This is the time to show good faith, be a model community, and move collectively toward that first project.

If you have any questions about our motive, intent, experience, next steps or anything else about us please feel free to reach out to me, Andrew DeFranza, Executive Director of Harborlight Community Partners, at 978-922-1305 x 207 or adefranza@harborlightcp.org. I am also happy to talk in person at your convenience.

Here’s to a bright future in Hamilton!

 

 

Andrew DeFranza
Harborlight Community Partners

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A few thoughts about our year in Hamilton: part 1

Good evening.

After the Hamilton Board of Selectmen meeting on May 1, 2017 Harborlight Community Partners (HCP) has received numerous requests to address some key items raised in that meeting and over the last year and a half. This is the first of two short pieces meant to be our public response.  The second piece will follow shortly.  While this is in no way a comprehensive explanation, we hope it will provide clarity on our perspective and next steps.

Timeline: How Did We Get Here?

Before connecting with HCP, the town of Hamilton took under consideration the housing needs of Hamilton residents as well as what was needed to comply with the 40B (affordable housing) state law. Both are addressed in Hamilton’s 2013 Affordable Housing Production Plan, which you can find here: Hamilton Production Plan.  The plan was created by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council for local officials and reveals that to meet the minimum requirements of the 40B law, Hamilton must create 200+ affordable housing units and at least 14 units per year. However, the plan also finds that the town actually needs many more than 200 units if it is to meet the needs of Hamilton residents alone.

It was not until late 2015 that HCP proposed a series of affordable housing buildings for seniors and families (108 total units – 60 for seniors and 12 small four-unit buildings for families). The initial proposal encouraged an exploration of 20 acres at Longmeadow Way, just south of the high school. This was to take place in 3-4 phases over 10+ years.

In February of 2016, HCP was asked by public officials and neighbors not to start a permit process on Longmeadow but to wait and work with the Town on alternative housing plans. As part of our commitment to partner in good faith with the community we agreed to hold that permit process for 90 days. The same request was made in April and again in May; HCP again agreed to hold the permit process for 90 days.

While the Council on Aging voted to support that original proposal, others objected in various public ways to the location and the number of units. After debate and discussion, the Board of Selectmen decided in the Spring of 2016 not to support a proposal for 108 units, along with a similar decision by the Hamilton Affordable Housing Trust (HAHT).

Despite not supporting the original proposal for 108 units, by August of 2016 an impressive amount of progress by town officials had been made.

  • The HAHT added new members and started meeting every two weeks to explore possible sites for housing development.
  • HAHT created an evaluation tool to assess possible sites and began its first appraisals of town-owned land.
  • Later town officials also developed a first of its kind “Host Community Agreement,” a document to ensure local input for affordable housing development (Click here for the agreement and here for additional info about the agreement between HCP and the Town of Hamilton.)
  • HCP agreed to become a “Host Community Partner” with the Town–a collegial effort in hopes of drafting a project to satisfy the need for affordable housing for which there would be significant support and limited opposition by residents.  In continuing in good faith and this agreement, HCP has not, to date, proceeded with permitting at Longmeadow as the town reviews all its options.

The HAHT has considered many sites: small lots, large lots, public land, and private land; sites with potential unit counts of 25-35 and those with up to 108. Many of these sites were rejected by either the HAHT and/or neighbors including the smallest sites with the smallest unit count. At each and every site, the HAHT encountered opposition from neighbors of those sites.

HCP remained on call for well over a year, offering feedback or ideas when asked. Eventually the HAHT narrowed its search to three sites, which were recommended to the Board of Selectmen (BoS) for consideration. The BoS affirmed the sites for consideration and asked HCP as a partner to evaluate the sites. We provided this evaluation (see the evaluation document HERE) and the BoS took up the discussion from there. On May 1st, the BoS took up those recommendations for consideration at a public meeting attended by a sizable number of neighbors from each of the three sites. No motion or a decision was made about pursuing any of the sites by the BoS.

Summary: Process to Date

Over the last 14 months, HCP, of its own volition, has invested hundreds of hours in over 100 meetings and other communications to support the town of Hamilton in uncovering the best way forward to achieve its housing goals. It has been a difficult and costly process, but one HCP entered into willingly and with earnest because having Hamilton’s support of a project would be the best way forward. We still hope that we can partner with the town of Hamilton to help meet both the needed housing for residents (seniors and families) and the legal needs of the Town with a project which will be embraced by the community. Unfortunately, this lengthy process has not delivered the result for which the town began working in 2015.

Where We are Now

First and foremost, THANK YOU for the time and energy you have invested in this important process. We know many are anxious, yet despite this, many have been willing to engage in constructive discussions. Of note are the Longmeadow neighbors, who have been very connected and engaged despite a rocky start. We are grateful for their response. Public officials are in a difficult position, but have, for the most part, been active in trying to create a path forward for affordable housing that can be broadly supported by Hamilton neighbors. We have never worked with or even heard of a situation in which a similar community was so active in an attempt to meet affordable housing goals.

Thank you.

Know that HCP intends to stay the course. It has not been easy. Our attempts to help the Town meet its housing needs have been met with hostile rhetoric, inaccurate claims about the impact of affordable housing, attempts to disparage the character of HCP and its staff, and threats of legal action. One surprising response that had not until now been experienced before by HCP came from a resident at a public forum that involved colorful language and threat of bodily harm. We understand that the prospect of affordable housing can sometimes elicit a visceral response; nevertheless, we are committed to our mission, to helping the Town meet its goals and do its part as a community within the region to create economically accessible housing for working families with children and seniors.

Over the past 14 months we at HCP have heard many reasons why community members support affordable housing in the abstract but not in practice. There are some valid but not insurmountable concerns which are not unlike those other towns have grappled with and overcome. It is these concerns HCP would like to address in what will follow next week in the second piece.

Thank you for reading this letter. It is our hope that this letter and the one to follow will be helpful in working toward real affordable housing in and for Hamilton in the near future.

 

 

Andrew DeFranza
Harborlight Community Partners

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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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