Linden/Chambers Redevelopment Meeting excludes Tenant Occupants
- NEEDHAM, MA On Tuesday April 11, 2023, in the Linden/Chambers community room, at 5 Chambers Street, the design team from the Needham Housing Authority (NHA) delivered a power point presentation. They answered questions on the proposed redevelopment of the area, across from the High Rock School playing fields, where the current Linden/Chambers apartments are now standing.
By several accounts, letters of invitation went out to the homeowners, registered voters, and Town Meeting Members, living on Maple Street and in the High Rock area. At least, eight neighborhood folks, interested in the future of the neighborhood, were regaled by the Architects, the NHA Chair, Reggie Foster, and Margaret Moran, from Cambridge Housing Authority, regarding the proposed development.
The above photo was posted on a Needham Facebook group. It shows an older tenant, standing outside the meeting. The image was evocative, and the question was, did the NHA exclude the current resident tenants from the meeting? My comments were considered too controversial for the Needham FB group by the administrator, so the discussion, there, was curtailed. My story is, I was not invited, and, no, I did not hear about it. Neither did any other residents, I spoke with, hear about it, even though many are voters, and certainly residents.
In my case, I was out for a walk at 8pm, observed the meeting, and took a few photos. I did not feel comfortable just walking in, although, I suppose, I could have.
The community room is sometimes rented out to private groups, so, a meeting there is not automatically open to the public, especially if the people in the hall, using the room, are not recognized by, and are unknown to, the tenants.
Earlier in the year, Reggie Foster, NHA Chair, presented plans and proposals to a regular monthly residents coffee hour and social get together. With twenty residents there, it was fairly well attended.
There was, also, in January, a special presentation, for the residents of the Linden/Chambers apartments. Unfortunately, the occasion was marred, when two residents were disallowed from speaking their minds, Kalpana Shaw and myself. I was also, denied a look at the roster of attendees that I was promised. I was told not to take it personally. I did receive the information over ten days later. I was also told, by Steve Merritt, former acting temporary interim executive director and current consultant, that while I would be given the roster this time, but that, after consulting with a lawyer, the NHA would not be providing that information in the future.
I asked Steve for the name and contact information of the lawyer. I also asked if this change in policy extended to the practice, we have now, of sharing the names of the people in attendance at the zoom meetings - otherwise the public would not know who was at the meeting, whereas the administrators of the meeting would. I also asked whether this change was a decision of the attorney, of the acting executive director, Steve Merritt, or a policy of the NHA Board.
I have yet to hear Steve's response to my questions.
My experience is about lack of inclusivity. When the NHA search committee interviewed the several architects/engineers applying for the contract, last year, I asked for the time and place of the meeting, and was denied that request for information, on the basis that the meeting was not subject to open meeting law.
Tenants have always, in my experience, been able to attend these sorts of meetings, to be given the opportunity to witness the presentations of the bidders, and to ask questions. The MA Attorney General's Office of Open Government informally agreed that such meetings are open to the public. The NHA chose not address the matter because, as a "complaint," the NHA is not obligated to respond, if the complaint is not filed within 30 days of the incident.
In general, perhaps due to the changes in management and staffing, the NHA has been sloppy in applying the standard rule, regarding the posting of the 48 hour public notice before a meeting. One NHA meeting, months ago, had no public notice posted at the L/C bulletin board. Another NHA meeting was posted, but the room was shut down and closed for a floor cleaning (stripped and waxed for $2,800.-) And so, no residents had access to the bulletin board and therefore received no notice for that meeting. And one week, there was no public notice for residents at L/C regarding a Special NHA meeting set for April 27, 2023. A complaint over this violation was filed with the Town Clerk and with the NHA. The Agenda included a discussion of the vital zoning changes, the NHA will be requesting, in order to redevelop the Linden/Chambers/High Rock neighborhood.