CPC asks NHA to pull the Linden/Chambers redevelopment proposal from consideration


NHA Chair Reggie Foster, Commissioners Eleanor Evens and Janice Bennett, plus Directors Steve Merritt and Cheryl Gosman

- Needham, MA      On Thursday March 16, 2023, the Needham Housing Authority held a regular monthly Board Meeting, at the Seabeds Way Community room, where Reggie Foster, currently serving as state appointed Board Member, gave the small audience of interested residents the news.   Reggie, as Chair, gave a report on the recent CPC and FinCom meetings of March 8, 2023, where critics ripped apart the current funding application.   At this regular NHA meeting, the prospect of the Town Committees not supporting NHA at the Spring Town Meeting was not well received.

The NHA has been working in fits and starts, for years, on plans to upgrade and/or add units to the "deeply affordable" housing stock of Needham.   To this end in recent months with the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA,)  and other possible development partners, the NHA has been campaigning with presentations before the crucial  Town Boards and Committees, those who the NHA have identified as the stakeholders and key decision-makers.  

The Town supports the inclusion of subsidized housing in Needham's future.  The details are a work in progress.   Peter Pingetore, as a former NHA Commissioner and out going CPC Chair, has been a voice for the purposes of the CPC, which are open space,  housing, and resources (formerly historic).  A red flag was raised, last month, when the CPC heard that, even with previous grants and with the current requested funding, there exists a risk that actual construction would not necessarily follow. 

The off-the-record, completely unofficial, and probably private comment was that the proposal was not "ripe."

Throughout it all, the CHA has tried to demonstrate that a phased construction project is possible, as with an apartment complex in Cambridge, called Putnam Gardens, where  the CHA redeveloped the 120 unit apartment complex in something like fourteen phases of construction over four years.  With Linden/Chambers at 152 units, it might not be comparable, but in any case, the complexity of the current application, which involves repositioning, relocation, zoning changes, and leveraged financing has triggered a stream of questions.

Laura Dorfman, one of the three volunteer liaison with the CPC, expressed real annoyance at having to read and study yet another complicated funding application from the NHA, especially when, it appeared that some of the new pre-development requests were already funded with existing grants, and that those previous grants have not been spent.  To be clear, the NHA has a contract with an A/E firm to do property condition reports and schematics, and that that work is underway. 

It was said that the more information, the CHA presents, the more questions are generated, and that the CPC may not have the expert capacity to understand the proposal.   One countervailing opinion was that maybe another consultant was needed to replace CHA.

One wrinkle is that the proposal (as I understand it) requires the formation of a syndicate, by which a non-profit joins a third party group, and through syndication, trades its non-profit status in exchange for the money that a profit making company is willing to pay out for private use of the tax credits taken from the non-profit participants in the syndicate.   Essentially, the non-profit gets part of the revenue that the profit partners save by not paying taxes.   It could be the kind of program a towm with resources, like Needham, could do, to self-fund its housing development.

The NHA Board considered three ways of going forward:  1) stay the course and submit the application, 2) withdraw the application and go for the Fall Town Meeting,  or 3) meet again next week to consider the question, further, before the CPC  vote.

Reggie  Foster, Chair, and Ed Scheideler, Treasurer, felt that, for the time being, the application should be withdrawn.  Ed said, since we are the beggars (at the banquet,) we should comply and withdraw.  The other three of the five Commissioners wanted to push ahead with the current request.

Penny Kirk thought "we should not put this off," and we should learn more precisely what the CPC concerns were, in order to give them what they want, before the CPC vote.   Reggie said, the CPC was not going to learn anything more over the next week, but agreed with Penny that the NHA might consider reducing the request down to the first third of the application, and ask for the rest later.   Penny insisted, if we do withdraw, we need a guarantee for consideration at Fall Town Meeting.

Since the Town supports the NHA and acknowledges the need for more housing options, Janice Bennet wanted to hold their feet to the fire, saying, she did not want to see "Linden/Chambers put on the back burner."  One problem, Reggie pointed out, may be that if an application is rejected, the applicant may not be permitted to apply again for two years depending.

Eleanor Evans noted that, while there are no newspapers in town covering this story, it is still not a good look to have postponements and delays, and this is something we should avoid.  She said, the NHA is already six months behind schedule and with more time passing, construction costs will only continue to go up.

Chair Foster touched lightly on two generic concerns, as possible sources influencing the firm push back against the Housing Authority plans:  1) a NIMBY, or "not in my back yard" attitude to development, and 2) questions about government oversight and where the Town stands in relation to the Housing Authority.

The NHA Board decided, Thursday night, to meet next week at a Special Board Meeting to decide what actions to take. 

(to be continued...)

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