Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
Tonight, as the Council contorts itself to defend the integrity of The Belvidere, please consider something. Who remembers this episode?
LOWELL CITY COUNCIL
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 25, 2012
CITY HALL, CITY COUNCIL CHAMBER
TIME 6:30 PM
GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS (Scheduled for 7PM)
9. Ordinance-Amend zoning (Westview Road)
I’m going to quickly paste in a bunch of info, so you can judge for yourself whether the City Council is plague by an integrity problem. Maybe, because of national politics, we have become immune to ‘flip-flopping?’
Today’s episode: State: LHA must release Sec. 8 list
LOWELL — The Secretary of State’s Public Records Division has determined the Lowell Housing Authority did not comply with the state’s public-records law when it denied The Sun’s request for a list of property owners with multiple Section 8 voucher tenants.
In an Aug. 8 letter to LHA Assistant Executive Director Mary Ann Maciejewski, the state’s supervisor of records, Shawn Williams, wrote that any responsive record identifying property owners with multiple Section 8 tenants is public record and must be provided to The Sun.
As of early April, there were nearly 1,250 tenants in the city with Section 8 housing vouchers from the LHA.
LHA provides tenant-based and project-based vouchers to those eligible for the Section 8 program.
Those with tenant-based vouchers can choose to live in any private housing unit that meets the requirement of the program. As of early April, the LHA provided 1,116 of those vouchers to participants.
Project-based Section 8 vouchers can only be used at designated properties. The LHA subsidized the rents of 120 project-based participants as of early April.
I’d like to see this list of landlords. How many live outside of Lowell? We spend a ton of energy griping about city officials that live outside of Lowell. Should we get a handle on “absentee landlords?” This list would help with that. Also, how often are the rental units inspected? By whom? Let’s protect those living in these units by ensuring that everything is on the up and up. Transparency will help. Disclose the list now.
Had to bring this up because, y’know, I hate poor people and immigrants. Oh, throw in kittens while you’re at it. JACK HATES KITTENS!!!!!
LOWELL — In order to help fulfill its pledge to keep Westminster Village largely affordable housing, the new owner of the 432-unit apartment complex on Pawtucket Boulevard is offering cash incentives for some of the higher-income residents to move out.
Westminster Preservation, L.P., which was able to acquire and rehab the apartment complex with a $45 million loan from MassHousing last year, sent letters early last month to residents offering to pay them $5,000 in a one-time cash payment, plus $1,000 in moving expenses, if they leave Westminster by the end of March.
To be eligible, residents’ income had to be above 60 percent of the area median income.
One of the stipulations of the MassHousing loan was that 412 of the 432 apartments remain affordable to low-income persons. The owner pledged to keep the other 20 units market rate.
To help meet that low-income requirement, the owner secured a 20-year renewal and extension of the Section 8 housing-assistance payment contract at the property from HUD. The federal agency provides funding for Section 8 tenants — who are low-income, elderly and disabled — to live in privately owned facilities.
Lowell is treading water this way. Maybe we would go under without it?
Just a reminder, that if you missed your chance to come find out more about renting at the new Appleton live-work affordable rental housing for artists, there’s another info session tonight, 6:30 - 8 pm, at the 119 Gallery, 119 Chelmsford Street, Lowell. From the PDF flyer:
Come to snack, sip and learn about 130 new, loft-style rental apartments designed for those who create art and those who appreciate it. Meet the people who want to help you make the Appleton Mills your next home. Find out about the Preference for Artists and how you could be moving into the building when it is completed next spring.
Can’t attend? Visit LiveAppletonMills.com or call 978.458.0588
The news is reporting that MA home sales last month were up incredibly from last November, by a whopping 59% for single family homes. Of course, November 2008 was a terrible month for home sales, but that is still a very good trend. This is in addition to the encouraging, though fragile news that the state’s revenues are also on the rise, beyond previous gloomy projections.
The conservatives have attempted to label the stimulus efforts of the last year as more than fruitless - they state it has been a huge waste of taxpayer money. For instance, they constantly cite their favorite sets of numbers with regards to the Cash for Clunkers program - that each “clunker” cost far too much to be useful as a stimulus.
But here’s what I know. I know a family member of mine who works in the auto parts industry went from a dismal reduction in hours a year ago, to working full time again in the last few months. I know his company is now working on electric car technology, partly due to a bigger emphasis on green transportation and getting ourselves rid of “clunkers.” I know that my own brother proudly purchased his first home to take advantage of the first-time buyers program last summer, one more notch in the stabilization of home prices. He has a good steady job and was a perfect candidate for someone who just needed a little incentive take the plunge to being a home owner.
I also know that I myself have expanded my business as a direct result of stimulus money which is going to a program intending to help people gain the skills necessary to become more financially responsible. My business is doing so well I have less time for blogging.
I know there’s construction going on around the state and I know that the Hamilton Canal District’s Appleton artist live-work rentals had their groundbreaking and is keeping people employed for 18 months. I know that MA’s unemployment numbers are looking better every month, and I know that our schools have dodged a huge bullet when it comes to losing budget in the last year, thanks largely to the priorities of our Governor.
Maybe today’s just a glass half full day because my Christmas shopping is done and mostly wrapped and we’re headed for a three day weekend and I get to watch my excited nieces unwrap gifts, but I’m feeling that 2010 is definitely looking up, and I think that the policies enacted to deal with the Main Street worries, such as the stimulus bill and the incentive programs, did what they were supposed to do. Could they have been more efficient? Sure. For instance, we wasted a 1/3 of the stimulus in pointless tax breaks for special interests and big business. It’s well known* that you do not get back the same economic activity from tax cuts as you do direct spending.
But overall, I think we’re in better shape than we could have been, and averted a worse economic crisis. Now we need to fix what was broken, namely, the regulation of industries in which greed played and still plays such a powerful roll. We need to go back to having a firewall between lending activity and investing, among other things.
I’m not optimistic about health care reform (in that I think that the Senate bill subsides for Big Insurance are just going to become tomorrow’s boondoggle) but at least restricting the ability of insurers to deny you care for a preexisting condition or kicking you off care is a good step (we do that in MA by the way). We need fast action on carbon reduction, and though Copenhagen was a tough nut I hope people are not done fighting for it. If we can build these three pillars - economic reform, heath care reform, and environmental reform - we will have gone a long way towards transforming our country to thrive for the next 9 decades of this century.
* Known except to those who cannot let facts get in the way of their theory binkie called “trickle down.”
A press release from the Patrick administration informs me that some $43.4 million is slated to be distributed to cities and towns for neighborhood stabilization funds to help stave off the effects of foreclosure. This is monies appropriated under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which has Congressman Barney Frank’s fingerprints on it.
From the release:
The funds will be used to purchase foreclosed homes at a discount and to rehabilitate or redevelop them in order to respond to rising foreclosures and falling home values. Following criteria developed by HUD, the Patrick Administration has identified neighborhoods within 39 communities as areas hardest hit by foreclosure and most in need of financial assistance.
Of the $54.8 million allocated to Massachusetts, HUD will directly fund the cities of Boston ($4,230,191), Brockton ($2,152.979), Springfield ($2,566,272) and Worcester ($2,390,858). As the state’s highest need communities, those cities can also apply to the state for up to $9.1 million in additional direct funding. Fitchburg, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Framingham, Barnstable, Plymouth and Marlboro can also apply for $6.8 million direct assistance for eligible projects.
Once the state’s plan for disbursement is approved, funds should be available by February.
This strikes me as one prong of a comprehensive attack on the home foreclosure issue. However, this is not going to prevent more foreclosures or keep people in their homes, which I find very unfortunate. It looks like we will be waiting for January 20th, at a minimum, for the help that Main Street so desperately needs.
Something really amiss is going on over at the Coalition for a Better Acre, this time, in regards to recent eviction notices delivered to some tenants that have seem to suggest some are in arrears going back to 2004, whereas many of those tenants have had no previous notice of such. CBA Members for Justice is hosting a rally today at 5pm to ask for a halt to the eviction process until the issue of fairness can be resolved. The press release from CBAMJ has more:
Outraged Lowell residents and CBA Members for Justice will rally on December 18 against threatened evictions of at least 80 low-income households from properties developed or owned by the Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA). The rally will start at 5:00 and take place outside the meeting of the North Canal Housing Trust, 517 Moody Street in Lowell.
“Dozens of North Canal tenants have been coming through my office day after day with these warning letters” explains Paulette Turner, Consultant to the North Canal Tenant Council and former staff of CBA’s property management company Maloney Properties. “In some cases this is the first notice they’re receiving of money they’ve supposedly owed since 2004. Then they get sent to court to sign an agreement they might not understand and can’t afford, and once they break that agreement, they’re out on the street.”
This flood of warning notices extends beyond the CBA-developed North Canal complex, to other CBA properties on Merrimack Street and the Acre Triangle. In some cases the notices are just wrong, like one demanding $1350 from a North Canal resident - when the woman sat down with Turner to review her records, it turned out that she was actually owed a $40 credit instead. In other cases, the debt may exist, but tenants have received no prior warnings, counseling, or education about options for addressing the problem and staying in their homes.
In response to the crisis, the North Canal Tenant Council has hosted two educational meetings where tenants raised other issues. For example, constables were taping notices to the outside of people’s doors, where they are accessible to passersby. They talked about suddenly receiving first-time notification for money they have supposedly owed for years, which then turns out to be an error. Maria Claudio, a long-time North Canal resident, says “This whole process is illegal and not in compliance with HUD regulations. I have been personally affected by the situation.”
“It’s distressing that CBA, an organization that formed to fight for justice and housing for the poor of Lowell, is now acting as a landlord that will evict people with no due process,” adds Darcie Boyer, Acre resident and former CBA organizer. “We’re seeing CBA’s dramatic change from social justice organization to one led by the interests of bankers and developers.”
The rally will demand an immediate halt to the eviction process. “CBA needs to require its property manager to sit down with the tenants and design a new process that is fair and clear to all,” adds Turner. The North Canal Housing Trust, a joint body of the North Canal Tenants Council and the CBA Board of Directors, sets policy for North Canal Apartments.
As previously mentioned in comments, there are fishy things going on behind the scenes since before the Coalition for a Better Acre’s recent annual meeting, and I’ve been talking to people to try and find out some sort of coherent storyline.
First and foremost was my personal experience. That meeting and the voting was packed - perhaps three times or more the numbers from previous annual meetings. There were voting booths and marks on the hand (as if they expected cheating). It was quite insane and unexpected, given that I’ve been to these meetings before.
More importantly, besides seeing many of the same people I am familiar with who’ve cared a great deal about the CBA over the years, I saw scores of new faces, people whom had, so far as I could tell, no ties to the CBA. I wondered who they were, and why they would care about this annual meeting and board election. I believe I have an answer of sorts.
It would seem that members of St. Patrick’s church were there in numbers at the CBA annual meeting. As many of those people are Acre residents, they have every right, of course, as does any resident or worker of Lowell. But my first thought was, what would get people who are unfamiliar with the CBA (indeed, many indicated no knowledge at all about the CBA) out to vote for a slate of board members for said organization, standing in line for hours on a late Saturday afternoon? What could they possibly feel was so important? That bugged me, until the reports trickled in to me.
It appears that many church members were falsely under the impression that if they did not show up to vote “appropriately” (ie for the slate of board members supported by the Director), that their own church was somehow in jeopardy. Indeed, I am given to understand that letters went out from the pastor, and “house meetings” were held with the church’s Sisters, to give this information out. If the leadership at St. Patrick’s did actually mislead their membership into believing that the CBA board vote had anything to do with the church’s own funding, that is a grave abuse of church resources, authority, and of the very decency with which we all hope that a church is conducted. What is more, I am told that the church put up much of the funding for the “campaign” for the pro-director slate of board candidates. If I were the Church, or its membership, I would be questioning the appropriateness of conducting what was essentially a political campaign with Church funds.
This would, of course, explain the large turnout of unassociated church members. If I were told that my church might close pending a vote one way or another, I would certainly give up a few hours of my life to ensure that would not happen. To be deceived on this level I can’t even imagine. Democracy is not best served with divisive and dishonest tactics such as these, and though the turnout for the annual meeting was the largest ever, I do not believe that the vote was either fair nor representative.
That isn’t the end of this saga, however. The vote that day, with church members and city and bank employees showing up to outnumber community members (of which there were an astounding number as well), was never tallied publically (ie as far as I know, they never published the results). Why wouldn’t they? Perhaps to keep the “other side” in the dark as to how high their own vote count actually was, or how close the election was.
But things have gone downhill from there. It appears that the CBA Board meeting, scheduled for this evening, has been closed to the public. This is completely unusual, because all board meetings until this point have been open. It is part of the bylaws of the organization (unless they have secretly changed these somehow, which isn’t a good thing). It makes me wonder: if the powers that be are not afraid of what they did, why close the meeting?
On top of this, there have been other violations of the makeup of the board:
The President of the North Canal Tenants Council is afforded a seat on the board. That individual has been very ill over the past year, and according to the bylaws she has a right to designate someone in her stead. We have been told that person will not be allowed into the meeting tonight.
One of the Committees of the CBA, the Acre Neighborhood Committee (ANC), has the right to vote two of its members onto the new board. That committee typically had had around 25 members at any give time. The ANC had been inactive for the past year due to the C.A.S.A. affordable housing campaign, which shared many of the ANC’s goals, making the Committee’s actions a bit redundant. At the last Board meeting, it was stated that the ANC was no longer meeting, but since then, two people have “appointed” themselves as the new board members out of the blue. They claim to have announced that meeting where this happened in the newspaper (where, of course, barely anyone would see it). Previously, the ANC announced its meetings with postcards to its members and other ways to ensure as many members as possible would attend.
Members of the CBA who were active ANC members before it stopped meeting met recently, with the goal of truly electing (via Robert’s Rules of order, ballots, etc) their two representatives to the Board. That meeting had 22 members present. The two elected by the real members of the committee will be attending tonight’s “closed” board meeting, where it is expected they will be turned away and thrown out, as will the Tenant’s Council’s appointed representative. I will of course be updated.
Again, there may be some sort of argument for a transition of the CBA’s longstanding culture of organizing the city’s most vulnerable residents. However, I have never seen it argued; and what’s more, neither have the hardworking people who have been members of the CBA and its heart for many years. They have constantly felt shut out of this process since long before CBA employees were fired. That is at the very least a total failure of leadership. The residents who are upset are all very dedicated and would have loved nothing more than to feel that the CBA still belonged to its membership.
Between the alleged trickery by a respected leader of a congregation and the shutout tactics which violate not only the spirit in which the CBA was founded, but its very bylaws, I can only come to the conclusion that there is no good argument for the actions which have been taken by the director. It has been a sad turn of events which has made community activists enemies with the organization which once embraced them, and I for one am weary of seeing local organizations destroyed by leadership which fails to convince people of the veracity of their actions, and instead uses dirty tactics and violations of trust to achieve victory.
Is the CBA lost? Has the city and the business community decided to side with the more corporate top-down structure that the CBA has become? I don’t know. I hope that people will give the disenfranchised and less powerful community a chance to come to the table, but I am not holding my breath.
More to come as I encounter it…
Two weeks ago, the City announced that Trinity Financial of Boston, MA has been chosen as the Master Developer for the http://www.hamiltoncanal.com/ Hamilton Canal District. The City web site has extensive information and if you want additional details, please check it out.
There is also a neat interactive map for those of you who want a quick review.
The Hamilton Canal District will reinvent 15 acres of vacant and underutilized land as a new vibrant mixed-use neighborhood connecting Lowell’s downtown to its Commuter Rail station. The project is an innovative public-private partnership between the City of Lowell and Trinity Financial. The $500 million, 2 million square foot project will include a substantial commercial component, 500-1000 new housing units, a new Judicial Center housing the Lowell Trial Courts, and potentially the new U. Mass/Lowell Nanotechnology Center.
Tomorrow on Thinking Out Loud (10am, 91.5FM, stream it here live), in continuence with our month of “housing crisis” discussions, we’ll be talking to Community Teamwork, Inc’s Ed Cameron, Associate Executive Director of the Division of Housing and Homeless Services.
Ed will talk about CTI’s efforts to combat homelessness, and also the City of Lowell’s new 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness (kickoff will be on Monday, Jan 29, 9:30am - 12:00 at the conference room at the Wannalancit Mills, 600 Suffolk St). It should be a very informative show, so tune in!
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