What is our responsibility to ensuring there is high quality affordable housing in our communities?

By Reverend Julie FlowersFlowers, Julie

When Harborlight Community Partners approached me about writing a piece as a guest blogger for their site, I was honored. As a minister at First Baptist Church in Beverly, the church that helped to form HCP and to give the fledgling organization its start, I have long been a believer in and strong admirer of the organization, its mission, and its work. The importance of working hard to provide affordable housing with dignity for people in our wider community cannot, in my opinion, be overstated; and Andrew DeFranza and his team at HCP have been pursuing this goal bravely and tenaciously. We are lucky to have them working in Essex County because the work of providing affordable housing is about more than just creating domiciles.   It is, quite literally, about building up communities. It is about making communities stronger by inviting people in, making it possible for them to put down roots, feel safe, and not just find housing but to build a home. It is about welcoming families and elders and young people. It is about leveling the playing field so that it is no longer the wealthy who can afford to make our corner of Massachusetts home, but instead ensuring that all types of people can settle here, feel safe here, shop here, eat here, go to school here, live here. Affordable housing work is about building communities up, from top to bottom, in every way imaginable.

I believe, with all my heart, that everyone deserves a home. I believe that each one of us shares a part of the responsibility to make that dream of every person having a safe place to call home a reality. When we look at our communities, when we consider housing costs of market value apartments or of homes listed for sale on the market, it is incumbent upon us to notice and to name the reality that the cost of living in our little corner of the country is scandalously high.

When we talk about making communities accessible and affordable, when we talk about welcoming all sorts of people into our communities by providing affordable housing, there is a danger of falling into an us/them dichotomy. There are those of us who can afford to pay market value for rent or who can afford the outrageous money down to purchase a home, and then there are the others,  those who cannot afford these things. This kind of thinking puts us in a dangerous place, because it relies upon a false sense of security, on the one hand, that we would never find ourselves in a position where we could not afford the things we needed, and, on the erroneous assumption that the others  are unlike us. The truth is, they are us; and we are them. We are, all of us, human beings, sharing this earthly journey, striving to do the best that we can with the time that we are given. Money is not doled out in accordance with goodness or righteousness. That is not how it works. So it is important that those who have not fall into the falsity of thought that says we are entitled to much while others are not. What we see, too often, is an increasing stratification of those who have and those who have not that divides communities and drains them of the richness and diversity that they could otherwise have.

The cost of living here is expensive. Perhaps some of the most damning evidence against our ability, as a nation, to maintain a cost of living and market value on housing that are attainable for the majority, lies in the fact that, as of a year ago, a full 30.3 percent of millennials were living back at home with their parents. Or the fact that one-in-five young adults in our country are living in poverty.   Or that the national median income for millennials is $33,833, despite the fact that the number of young adults holding college degrees is at a record high in our country.[1] It used to be, the story went, that if you went to college and you worked hard and got a degree, you could make it. You could graduate and go out on your own and get a job and buy a house ¦and the rest would fall into place. That is no longer the story for many young people in our country. The cost of living, coupled with crippling student debt repayment and low income levels, make it impossible for ever-increasing numbers of young adults to live into that story. When it costs more per month to rent a market value apartment than they make in a month, what option do they have but to move home, if they are lucky enough to have parents who can continue to support them? For those without such a safety net, things are even more difficult.

If these young people, however, cannot grow and graduate and enter into the workforce and build homes and put down roots in our communities, it is all of us who suffer. It is the community that suffers. We lose something of the richness and the complexity and the diversity that we would otherwise have had. We lose the unique perspectives that these young people bring as they step into adulthood. We lose the next generation of families moving into our neighborhoods. We lose.

So, what is our responsibility to our neighbors when it comes to ensuring there is high quality affordable housing in our communities? For me, the answer is not only about our responsibility to our neighbors although it certainly is that it is also about our mutual responsibility to and for one another and for our very communities. Creating and supporting housing that is affordable and welcoming new and different people into our communities is imperative, both from a social justice perspective and from a practical standpoint. It just makes sense. If we want strong social connections and strong communities; if we want schools filled with vibrant schoolchildren; if we want to see young people stepping out and following their own path; if we want intergenerational connections that offer strength to all of us, it makes sense. And, more than that, it is, I believe, what we are called to do.

In one of my very favorite passages of scripture, from the book of the prophet Micah, the question is raised: What does the Lord require of you?  and the answer comes, To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.    Whether you profess a life of faith or not, I think those words can resonate I believe they are our shared calling along this earthly journey. We are called to do justice. We are called to love kindness. And we are called to walk humbly on the journey.

Our communities cannot wait. Young people cannot wait. Elders cannot wait. Families cannot wait. We all, the human family, cannot wait. I believe Harborlight Community Partners’ work achieves all three of the things the prophet Micah cites. The work that they do of building up community is vital.   When we support them in their efforts, when we cheer them on, when we donate to their work, when we stand with them, when we stand up for the cause of affordable housing in our communities, we are doing it, too.

Won’t you join us?

[1] http://www.campusreform.org/?ID=6302.   Last checked 03.31.16.

About our guest blog author:

Rev. Julie Flowers is a member of the ministerial staff of the First Baptist Church  in Beverly.  She graduated in 2001 from Wellesley College; she holds a BA in English and Spanish. She received her M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School in 2007, where she was a finalist for the prestigious Billings Preaching Prize. Julie has also served as chaplain intern at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. She is a member of the Beverly Rotary Club, through which she is able to meet with many other community members and to be engaged in active and lively community service, like that practiced and valued by the church. In her free time she enjoys skiing and sailing (depending on the season!), reading, going to local Farmer’s Markets, and spending time with her son, Emmett, and their dog, Madeline.

 

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A Sign of North Shore Housing Discrimination

We have had a lot going here at HCP lately.

We are working every day to provide good, safe, and affordable housing all around the North Shore.

This is housing for retired, fixed income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families.

This is housing that, as a community, as a county, and as a state, we need more of and in varying forms.

Currently, HCP is working through a court process for a Wenham project (Maple Woods), as we passionately defend our permit to build 60 affordable senior units. The legal process is hard, expensive, and time consuming. While we pour ourselves into this struggle, the human and financial resources expended preclude us from working in other ways and in other communities to help people who need it.

HCP is also looking into and contemplating new housing in Hamilton, Beverly, and Rockport. There will be much more on these potential projects in the near future. This is not easy.   The hurdles are difficult to navigate, be they complicated financial structures, addressing environmental concerns, being strategic in planning for human needs into the coming decades, and more. But the most distressing hurdle is the one which became very evident on busy Route 1A, as we begin to explore a new project.  This discriminatory and erroneous sign, in reference to a potential mixed use family and elder development, is the hurdle which most saddens us, gives us pause, but ultimately, strengthens our resolve.

In the midst of myriad meetings, late nights, emails, phone conversations, and too many cups of coffee, I was profoundly struck by two things, which not just gave me pause, but stopped me in my tracks.

  1. One, a plea for help. We received an email last week from a family. Essentially, the email stated.We have children. We work full time at a local health care facility. We are in a local homeless shelter. We have first and last months rent. We can move in anytime. While we receive these emails daily, this one came in the midst of our preparation for court regarding Maple Woods. The email came in as we think about and talk with other communities about what it will cost to pursue unit creation for this working family and too many others who reach out to us. But most poignantly, It came just before this afore mentioned sign was erected.
  2. The next moment came as I told my seven year old daughter about the email from the family. It was told in part to explain to my child where dad had been all week and why. Her response was, without hesitation, Dad ¦.they could live with us! 

I was trying to teach her something my daughter. Instead she is teaching all the rest of us.     Dad they could live with us.

So how about it North Shore? Can they live with us? Can teachers, firefighters, nurses, retirees, carpenters, office staff, and others live with us?

If we want them to live with us, then we all need to stand up and say so.

Good people of good will need to use their voices in each community on the North Shore and say that it is good and right and responsible for us to make housing available across the region for our elders, our disabled neighbors, our children, our employees and those upon whose services we depend.

So how about it? What are you going to do about it now that it is on your mind? Please do something. It’s time to do something. Do what you can do to help make this happen.

You can do it.

~ Andrew

Hate Sign Hamilton March 2016a

 

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People, not buildings, are the core of the Wenham Maple Woods project

This is  entry is a repost of Andrew’s Letter to the Editor, published in the Salem News, March 21, 2016. http://www.salemnews.com/opinion/letter-wenham-project-is-about-people-not-buildings/article_76882d5d-bbd6-5352-a5c0-9d3c0912ad8e.html

In the coming weeks, Harborlight Community Partners will be in Superior Court, where the fate of the proposed senior  housing project, Maple Woods, sited on Maple Street in Wenham, will be decided.

After three years of thoughtful planning, careful consideration of community concerns, responding to the needs of various  sectors, and eventually securing all permit approvals, this is not where we had envisioned or hoped we would be. But here we are. Some may ask why? Why would a nonprofit organization, with limited resources, choose to devote these  precious resources to this project? Why stay the course?

Mission. Our steadfast commitment to ensure members of our community have access to decent, quality, affordable  housing, most especially, our elders ” who deserve nothing less.

The impact of such goes far beyond the individual; it ripples outward to sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren,  employees, neighbors ” anyone who is concerned about or must care for a loved one approaching their golden years.  Knowing that a senior family member can live independently and affordably in a service-enriched, engaging and friendly  environment brings peace of mind that is truly priceless.

Perhaps this is best understood in the words of a caring daughter, who recently wrote us after her mother, a 25-year  resident of our Turtle Creek home in Beverly, had to leave her apartment. This family had originally lived on Puritan Road  on the west side of Wenham for many years. With her permission, we share this with you, as it exemplifies why we are  staying the course.

March 6, 2016

Dear Andrew:

I am writing to say thank you on behalf of our family, especially my sister Suzanne and me for the life-enriching  experience my mother, Georgette Hewson, enjoyed during her 25 years’ residence at Turtle Creek.

Our father died in 1987 at the age of 65, and my mother, a long-time resident of Puritan Road in Wenham, but then living  in a small apartment in Beverly, was left without much of a nest egg. Fortunately, a friend recommended Turtle Creek and  spoke about the fine management of the community complex for seniors without significant assets. After a waiting period,  her application for residence was approved in 1990.

Because of the caring environment, cheerful ambiance, thoughtful and responsive management, my mother soon realized  she had found a perfect home, making friends, participating in group outings, classes, and informal lectures. Throughout  her entire stay there, she was able to work a small plot of land on the grounds, planting annuals and perennials, enjoying  cut flowers in her apartment and even harvesting tomatoes. She especially enjoyed the company of the other gardeners  who in recent years tended raised boxes side by side through spring and summer.

My mother was able to live the independent life she cherished at Turtle Creek. Though she was invited to live with my  sister and her husband in her early 80’s, she was so happy there, it is only now, upon turning 95 years of age and facing  some health problems that she has relinquished her independence to go to New Mexico to be with them.

Our family is deeply grateful to the fine people ” her neighbors, the service coordinators and managers ” who looked out for  my Mom in recent years. We congratulate Harborlight Community Partners for the extraordinarily safe and positive  environment you have created for her and so many others.

Sincerely,

Gail Hewson Hull

People, not buildings, are the core of this project and our mission. For all the Georgettes on the North Shore, Harborlight  Community Partners will press forward with vigor and dedication to bring Maple Woods to fruition. Thank you to everyone  in Wenham for your support. This is a community effort and we would not have gotten this far without you.

Andrew DeFranza

Executive Director

Harborlight Community Partners

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A CALL TO ACTION *SUCCESS UPDATE*

UPDATE 10/23/15 : Thank you everyone for your support. Gov. Baker has  signed his approval for  HPSTF, H. 3673. We are hoping to participate in creating supportive housing for the formally homeless in Salem.

1)  We have been participating in a regional Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness  (Bev/Peabody/Salem/Danvers). Hopefully this will extend to Cape Ann:)

2)  Out of this we are working on two projects for homeless people: one for families and one for individuals.

3)  As of last night we have a permit to create 26 studio apartments with on site supportive services for formerly homeless individuals in Salem. This is in two buildings on Boston Street that are now very tired rooming houses.

4)  The House and Senate (State level) have approved a type of funding in the State budget to support just this kind of project and we are ready to apply shortly. The house and senate just recently agreed on this.

5)  It was thought that this funding in HPSTF, H. 3673 was a lock but there is now concern the Governor may move to veto this very quickly.

So ¦.if you are up for it I am asking you to consider calling the Governors office at 617.725.4005 and log your support for HPSTF, H. 3673.

You can also email the Governor at governor.schedule@state.ma.us

Here is the pitch:

My name is (________________) and I live in (__________________). I am involved with Harborlight Community Partners. We have a project permitted just last night and to go that can provide 26 units of housing for the formerly homeless in Salem. The Mayor, State Senator, and Ward Councilor are supportive. To make this work we are asking the Governor to sign HPSTF H. 3673 into law. Thank you 

Thank you for your efforts to get the word out.

~ Andrew

 

 

 

Andrew DeFranza

 

Executive Director

 

PO Box 507

 

Beverly MA 01915

 

978-922-1305 x207

 

www.harborlightcp.org

 

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Andrew’s Testimony Given in Support of H.1111

My name is Andrew DeFranza and I live on the North Shore where I also work with Harborlight Community Partners ”a regional affordable housing developer and property manager. Senators Lovely, Tarr, and McGee cover our general footprint. We are concerned about the housing needs of our region and the State at large. There is not enough housing across the income spectrum.untitled

According to the MAPC report, we know we need to create 17,000 housing units a year for over two decades to secure the kind of housing necessary to accommodate Massachusetts workers, retirees, and others. Housing developers will never be able to approach that number without policy changes that can support this goal. With this context in mind I would like to speak in favor of H.1111  by touching on three elements in the bill.

 Zoning

The current zoning system is designed to exclude and is effective in that effort. Not long ago we used to exclude or segregate people by income and/or race with tools like redlining, roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure. These tools became publicly unacceptable so we have shifted now to others. Currently zoning and limiting public infrastructure serve these same functions, isolating and excluding portions of the population. The result is that many communities wield zoning laws with the intent to support only single family housing on large lots, blocking multi-family housing, especially housing that may accommodate children. I spend many hours in zoning and planning board meetings and I would be embarrassed to repeat what some people say about human children in their efforts to discourage family housing. Most land in the State (over 75%) cannot be used for multi-family housing and many communities have built nothing but single family housing for a very long time.

The result is predictable. Communities with resources use vast amounts of land cobbled together in 2 acre lots to house very few people effectively keeping out certain other groups of people.

Communities without resources are then often in the opposite situation with a much higher ratio of multi-family housing. This self-imposed zoning then results in fewer multi-family units being created while at the same time raising land cost in these communities which exacerbates economic segregation. In the face of our 17,000 unit need, these practices cannot be continued. As Mass Housing Partnership has noted, this local zoning challenge is the primary cause  of our housing predicament. Thankfully, since this is a self-imposed this structure, we have the power to change it ¦and we should. This bill would allow this urgent change to take place.

Small Scale Production

In the region where Harborlight Community partners works and in many others there are very small communities with limited infrastructure and strictly single-family houses. And yet, some of these same communities have substantial CPA accounts. In our work, we have encountered a number of communities with locally controlled, fallow, and housing-restricted capital. Many of these communities have a political constituency willing to support housing. However, they have a high degree of difficulty working on a project that is of any large or moderate size. If we could offer a path for these communities to engage in smaller, contextual projects (such as 20 units or less), it would allow us to put this fallow capital to use in addressing our 17,000 unit need. It would also create access to different income groups in these communities.

40S

When we are in meetings working to convince communities to support affordable housing initiatives, we often get asked two questions which reveal the ways in which communities oppose multi-family housing: 1) Do you pay taxes? and 2) Will there be kids? As a matter of policy and ethics I can say yes to the former. We do pay taxes. Yet the latter question concerning children seems to be the primary driver of opposition to multi-family, multi-bedroom housing. The argument is that municipalities feel pressured regarding their school budgets and any addition children will cost the community more money. Even when the logic can be proved false, it is remarkably politically effective.

40S provides a tool that can create an answer to this kind of opposition. It can help solve the problem. It can also expose more nefarious motives should a long list of other reasons surface after education costs have been addressed.

There are two technical items to highlight here:

  • If the state does decide to expand 40S outside of 40R boundaries, it would be helpful to have the affordability requirement travel with the 40S use.
  • If a City or Town were given a window of time so that they could rely on 40S, this would help housing organizations navigate local political concerns. Right now there is no guarantee past the year at hand. This puts City or Town politicians at risk because, while they take what they perceive to be a long term risk on education costs, they could lose access to the 40S revenue stream they may have used to sell the concept to their constituents. A fixed minimum 40S window would give local officials political space to manage their local challenges in the event they want to support a project but feel they cannot without a commitment of 40S from the State on an ongoing basis.

Thank you for letting us attend and speak.

Andrew DeFranza, Executive Director

978-922-1305 x 207

adefranza@harborlightcp.org

 

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Housing Matters – A Call for Zoning Reform, August, 2015

Data Analysis of MF zoning& buildable landOne of the major issues that drives up the cost of housing and makes it impossible for people of low and modest means to afford it is the price of land in our region.

We live in a wonderful place and in many parts we border the Atlantic Ocean. The demand for land and the limitation of moving east make land more expensive certainly. This demand is a force we can do very little about. However we also have policy controls that further drive up the cost of land.

The major policy challenge which raises land costs, and therefore rental and first time homebuyer costs, is zoning.   We manage zoning at a local level in every municipality in the State. We do this in some part for good reason as we want to respect local control.   One of the downsides to our zoning policy as a region is that we have legally restricted multi- family housing development to a minority of land. This further exacerbates the problem of demand and the related problem of cost because there is such little land that can be used to create apartments or cluster family development.

We need more multi family zoning if we have any chance of housing our seniors, our young working families and those with disabilities.   Please consider talking about this in your community with your elected officials, planning boards and planning staff.

 If we want to respond to our housing needs and drive down cost, zoning reform is something we can control that can help that effort.

~Andrew

 

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Housing Matters, July 2015 – Together we can do this.

22393_10206862078899191_8329985892817600612_nAn acquaintance of mine from High School posted this picture recently.

As we are all taking time to remember and revere those who have sacrificed themselves for the good of others it is important to remember that this is our primary human calling.

This ability to invest ourselves so that others can have less pain, find more opportunity, and know joy during our time on this earth ¦..this is what is good about being human.

As we look out onto the world and the trouble mixed with hope please be encouraged.

You can make things better for others ¦your family, your neighbors, those you work with, families in need you have never met.

Lets take some steps on that better road this week.

Together we can do this.

We can do this.

~ Andrew

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Housing Matters, April 2015 — Here is to Spring and the good we will all do together

Housing Matters, April 2015 — Here is to Spring and the good we will all do together

Spring is upon us.

Everyone seems to be taking a collective exhale ¦.Winter 2015. We made it.

As the weather turns it feels to me like I am remembering all the many things I have to do.

My children are going back outside for soccer practice. We worked in the yard last weekend mostly to build character and maybe on the off chance that something might grow. We threw a surprise birthday party for my wife. Life rolls on and there is much to do and much joy to be had.

One of the things on my list to do is try to find ways to make our community just a little better than it is today. There are many ways to do this and I encourage all of us to find a couple this Spring and hold onto them. Shop at a local vendor. Volunteer your time. Say hello to your neighbor. Smile at someone.

Here at HCP we are thinking a lot about how we should be responsible with the trust you all put in us to make the community better. We have entered into a process to ask you some questions about what our priorities are, what they should be, and about how we are doing in our efforts to help people of limited means find homes on the North Shore.

This process is part of a Community Investment Plan  (CIP) we are working on in conjunction with our new award of Community Investment Tax Credits (CITC) If you would like to learn more about the CIP or check out how you can double the impact of our charitable gift on the local community through the CITC please check these links out.

As we all find way together to make the North Shore better I want you to know that we really appreciate your guidance and trust and we are grateful for all your support and encouragement.

Here is to Spring and the good we will all do together.

~ Andrew

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Housing Matters, August 2014: Need is where we start

Need.

Need is what drives mission.

Need is where we start and where our mission comes from. This is the why  part of the HCP mission equation.

For us on the North Shore one of our core needs is the availability of housing that is safe and affordable to a range of incomes.

 Frankly, we have a lot of trouble doing that here. Our children are educated here and move to other places they can afford. Our parents and elderly relatives have a difficult time in their later years. People who provide services society depends on do not generate enough income to manage the rent or mortgages that our market requires.   People who work to teach and protect our children, take care of our seniors, build our houses, cut our grass, create public art, write books, grow our food, run our retail stores, clean our buildings, operate our municipalities, and otherwise enrich our lives do not generate a return for their time and energy enough to support a place to live in many of our North Shore cities and towns.  

They want to be here. We want them to be here. Each is integral to our communities. So how do we think about this?

The staff at HCP sees this regularly, in the long daily waiting lists for buildings like Turtle Creek and Woods, Pigeon Cove, Rockport High School and others. They hear this in the calls from public officials looking for a home for someone on the verge of being homeless, in a plea from the homeless family that walked in the office last week saying someone told them we could help them with housing,  and in the single father who revealed to a colleague at a local community center that he and his children are staying with family and is seeking, with no success, a two bedroom apartment in the range of $1,300 per month.  Newer rental options in Beverly for a 2 BR can range from $1575-$2595. Sometimes this includes heat and hot water and sometimes this is rent alone. Older housing stock can be somewhat cheaper but the levels are still very high.

We all see this in our own families and communities. We drive through it when going to Home Depot or Target as we pass the homeless families staying at the Econo Lodge motel.

Earlier this month the front page of the Boston Business Journal read:   The Housing Bottleneck.  The article described in detail the business elements of this problem and how it is nearly impossible to create average priced homes  while very exclusive high end homes continue to get created. In many ways this is just the economics. The capital sources are comfortable with the demand for high end product. The developers and contractors can get high end products permitted, financed, built and occupied with a better return than average priced homes. And so, as there is economic demand, there is supply. This is reasonable and understandable.

Our problem then is highlighted. As a region we cannot house well many people who live here and many people we care about and at the least depend on.

What are we going to think about this need in front of us?

What are we going to do about it?

~ Andrew

http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/print-edition/2014/08/01/the-story-behind-greater-bostons-housing.html

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Housing Matters – June 2014

A few weeks ago I was standing outside at Harborlight House in Beverly waiting to welcome some special visitors.

It was a cool day with a light rain. I was waiting outside near a light pole on Monument Square, to make sure they did not get lost looking for this unique and caring home.  And in that moment, just as our elders need Harborlight House, so too did I need the visitors to find me.   I needed to talk with them about how they might help HCP ensure Harborlight House could continue to be this special home for seniors who need it.

Harborlight House is where all the passion and affordable housing effort started and where HCP traces its missional lineage.   In the early 1960’s, a small group from the First Baptist Church in Beverly voted [BB1]  tobuy the old home of Beverly’s first mayor, John Baker. These folks were intent to create a home for elders in need.  They bought that house ¦ and they did it.

They did it.

And here I was, standing in the rain more than 50 years later, hoping that the visitors I was waiting for would help HCP find new resources to invest in Harborlight House.    At HCP we have been working on a plan to renew Harborlight House; to put on a new roof, fix the elevator, create more comfortable space  for our residents, and make the building more energy efficient.   The cold, early spring rain and daunting task of deciphering  how these needs could be met, to improve the quality of life for our residents and longevity of Harborlight House itself  was getting to me a bit, weighing heavy on my heart and mind.   As I stood there, waiting in the rain, knowing that  many of those who possessed the original vision and hope, have since passed on, I was feeling discouraged as to how I was to get up this hill.

Looking skyward I suppose in an effort to channel the commitment of these good folks of another era- I saw on the light pole next to me that someone had pinned on it a rough Rowling Quotelooking piece of cardboard. In crayon, there was a JK Rowling quote:   Anything is possible if you have enough nerve. 

Well played, random stranger and thank you for the encouragement.

If over half a century ago a little church group had the nerve to buy a large house and figure out how to make it a home; and if, since that time, hundreds of elders in need of an affordable home and on-site care  had found just this magic at Harborlight House ¦well then, I suppose we should have enough nerve to see that magic through into the next generation.

For all of you who have had the nerve to do the right thing when it needed to be done we thank you.

How about we keep going in that direction together?


~ Andrew

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