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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One Response to A few thoughts about our year in Hamilton: part 1

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