Observing our town government in action

Members of the League of Women Voters of Marblehead, front row from left: Shari Pressman, Marta Bach, Alexa Singer, and Tom Krueger; second row from left: Judy Gates, Bonnie Grenier, Lee Mondale, Kathy Breslin, Polly Whitmore, and Mimi Hollister; and third row from left: Don Gardner, Kathy Leonardson, Nancy Powell, and Phil Blaisdell, gather in front of the Old Town House. Photo by Spenser Hasak

Observation reports are submitted by Marblehead League of Women Voters members who have attended meetings of various town boards and commissions. Observers are solely responsible for accuracy of the information. Complete reports can be found on the LWV of Marblehead website at www.lwvmarblehead.org.

FAIR HOUSING COMMITTEE (FHC) — May 8 (hybrid meeting — not recorded)

LWVM Observer — Bonnie Grenier

Mission statement: A discussion of the mission statement as it now appears on the website was first on the agenda. The current mission statement reads as follows: “The mission of the Fair Housing Committee includes helping the public and town officials to understand and support fair and affordable housing through education, advocacy and awareness of opportunities; continually developing the committee’s expertise and acting as a resource to the public officials and the public at large; and developing and implementing programs that expand, enhance or rehabilitate the fair and affordable housing stock in Marblehead.”

After some discussion members agreed that the statement is well-written and reflects the mission of the FHC. No changes were recommended at this time.

Missing from the meeting was Dirk Isbrandtsen who had submitted suggestions for “guiding principles” that might be relevant to the mission statement.

This matter will be taken up again at the next meeting when Isbrandtsen is present.

Website update discussion/review: Members reviewed the FHC website and discussed what updates/changes could be made. Some suggestions included: additional quick links that would help answer general questions people might have. However, too much information/too many links could be overwhelming for those conducting searches.

A link to U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines would help people determine if they might qualify for affordable housing.

Provide information that would walk those interested in affordable housing through the steps required.

Highlight the resources available for help finding affordable housing including the Marblehead Housing Authority, the Council on Aging, the Marblehead Counseling Center. CHAPA (Citizens Housing & Planning Association), and Mass Housing. Add existing affordable housing opportunities to the home page so they would be immediately visible.

Identify rental vs. home-ownership opportunities.

Is information about dealing with evictions diversion measures or fuel assistance appropriate for the FHC website that is meant to focus on affordable housing?

Have a place to sign up for email notification when new affordable housing opportunities become available.

A section entitled “Why worry about affordable housing” would provide information on the need for and benefits of affordable housing in Marblehead.

For homework, members were asked to review the website and send their suggestions for changes/improvements to Debbie Larkin, who will bring that information to the next meeting.

It was suggested that a press release explaining what’s going on with local affordable housing efforts in town would be a good idea. In the not-too-distant future, affordable units will be available at Vinnin Square and in Marblehead at the Sailmaker Place development. In addition, the town just voted in new zoning bylaws to allow accessory dwelling units in town. More information about the Housing Production Plan would also help educate the community on the efforts being made to increase affordable housing in Marblehead.

Mimi mentioned that the School Committee had met and discussed the Coffin School property. No decisions will be made on the school until after the June election, however, amongst current members there is a reluctance to turn the property over to the town. Thatcher reminded members that once a school property is declared surplus, it must be released to the town. He also reminded people that if a former school property is sold, the benefit to the schools would be the revenue generated by the new growth.

Debbie Larkin announced that Katie Farrell will be stepping down from the Fair Housing Committee. The Disabilities Commission will nominate someone to fill the vacancy.

In addition, Teri McDonough announced that she has taken a new position with the Salem Housing Authority and will have to step down from the FHC as well. She will be replaced by someone from the Marblehead Housing Authority.

The next meeting will be June 12 at 1 p.m. at Abbot Hall.



LWVM Observer – Bonnie Grenier

Teri McDonough announced that since she will be taking a new job she would no longer be able to serve as secretary. Erin will look for volunteers to take minutes in the future.

Cathy Hoog informed the committee that she had just submitted an application to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership for a technical assistance grant to explore the re-development of the Broughton Road Housing Authority property. The grant is approximately $35,000 to hire a consultant to develop a feasibility study. As the process moves along Massachusetts Housing would have additional grants available.

Leveraging public assets for mixed-income housing: Superintendent of Schools John Buckey spoke to the fact that the current School Committee is divided as to what to do with the Coffin School property. The June town election will bring new members to the School Committee, so the feeling is that any decision should wait until after the election.

Thatcher Keezer reminded members that once it is determined that the property will not be used for educational purposes, it must be turned over to the town by a vote at Town Meeting. He explained that the financial benefit to the schools from turning this property over to the town would come with increased revenue from new growth once the property is developed. Buckey mentioned that there is an RFP out for the cost for demolition of the Coffin School.

Expand existing smart growth overlay district: The committee needs to review and update proposals from the study that was done in 2009. A consultant will need to be hired to identify which areas in town can be developed and the owners of those properties will have to be contacted. Grant money may be available from the MAPC for technical assistance from a consultant. For those property owners who might be interested in re-development, an initial meeting with Thatcher and Becky would be the way to proceed.

To comply with the MBTA Communities Act, the town needs to designate at least 27 acres in total for possible development of multi-family housing. The minimum lot size is five acres. The Historic District would be exempt from this development. The Planning Board would have to draft new zoning by-laws for town counsel for review. They would then have to be approved by a vote at Town Meeting.

It will be helpful to reach out to other communities to see how they are handling the requirements of this new legislation. It has been made clear by the state that communities that do not comply with the new law will have reduced access to state grant money in the future. There was mention of the fact that development projects take significant time and effort, and that public procurement laws need to be revisited to facilitate more affordable housing projects.

Teri announced that the HOME Consortium has a significant amount of ARPA money available to address homelessness. She mentioned that every year in February there is a state-wide count of homeless people. In Marblehead this survey is conducted by the police department. Louis Meyi suggested that the School Department and Council on Aging be included in the survey since they are likely sources of information about homeless people in town.

Erin would like to invite State Rep. Jenny Armini to a future meeting to talk about opportunities for affordable housing.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 27 at 3:30 p.m. at Abbot Hall.