Fair Housing Committee looks to become household name

MARBLEHEAD — Marblehead’s Fair Housing Committee (FHC) convened for its second meeting of the year, at which it discussed its mission statement and website navigation, on Monday, May 8.

The meeting was headed by Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer at the Select Board’s room in Abbot Hall. Other members present included Select Board member Erin Noonan, Town Planner Rebecca Curran Cutting, Housing Authority Representative Teri McDonough, Debra Larkin, and Mimi Hollister.

The mission statement was the first point of order. While it was agreed that it did not need to be changed at this point in time, the committee made sure to highlight a few things about it.

The committee emphasized that it is supposed to help the public understand how affordable housing works through “education, advocacy and awareness of opportunities,” which separates it from the Housing Production Plan Implementation Committee (HPPIC). The FHC is responsible for providing resources to help people apply for affordable housing, while the HPPIC’s mission is to ensure there is adequate affordable housing in Marblehead and implement any goals put together by the FHC to the best of its ability, Kezer explained after the meeting.

The other aspect that needed focus was the word “fair.” Committee members mentioned that the threshold to be eligible for affordable housing in Marblehead is relatively high. Members agreed to clarify all the different variables that go into determining eligibility so the committee can better communicate to the general public.

“It was stunning to see that for a family of four in Marblehead at the 80 percent threshold, it was over $135,000 dollars to qualify for affordable housing,” said Noonan.

The committee agreed on a “homework assignment” to have that information gathered by the next meeting.

One goal that generated significant discussion was improving the advertising of affordable housing opportunities in Marblehead. Curran Cutting pointed out how it was difficult to fill openings for applicants at the Marblehead Highlands, but not due to a lack of need.

Kezer discussed how one option that might make payment easier, a financial agreement with ongoing obligations, is not feasible for the committee to implement.

He mentioned that with any financial transaction, there has to be “some level of certainty that this is the definite cost.”

“You make the transaction and the obligation is over,” Kezer said. “The benefit may continue to the homeowner, but the financial obligation has a definite ending to it.”

The website was also given a lot of attention at the meeting. The biggest adjustment proposed for it was Kezer’s suggestion of an orderly list with links to the third-party affordable-housing outlets. Each link would also have a brief description.

Curran Cutting also proposed the creation of an “eviction warning” section as evictions become more heavily enforced, with COVID-19 no longer considered a global health emergency.

The Fair Housing Committee will meet again on June 12.