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Maintenance at senior housing facility languishes as Hingham struggles to find cash

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 25, 2013 06:00 PM

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The senior and disabled housing at Thaxter Park in Hingham is in need of repair. Several units have water coming in where it shouldn’t, sidewalks are crumbling from too many winters, walking trails are no longer easy to navigate, and lights throughout the campus would barely pass efficiency standards.

Though owned by the state, state funding has been limited to do the work on the 92-unit public housing complex, and finding the money locally has proven difficult.

According to Hingham Housing Authority Executive Director Sharon Napier, in the past groups have been able to supplement skim state funding with funding from towns’ Community Preservation Act (CPA).

In Hingham, the Act allows for a 1.5 percent surcharge on residents’ property taxes to be used to preserve historical properties, purchase open space, or build affordable housing.

Yet a recent shift in the definition of how the money can be spent on affordable housing has made it nearly impossible to get money for anything remotely resembling maintenance.

“What’s happened is in the past housing authorities who have lower income housing units for seniors and disabled were able to access CPA funding to help with capital improvements … [but] this local committee has made the decision that sidewalks improvements, repaving, parking paving, ADA compliance…do not fall under the definition of preserving low income housing,” Napier said.

As a result, out of $180,000 in requested projects, the only project the Community Preservation Committee will spend on Thaxter Park this year is $4,500 in drainage and flood repairs.

That amount will have to receive final approval at Town Meeting on April 22, but has already been okayed by the Town Counsel.

“It’s not as much as they wanted but at least we’re complying with the law while we give them something,” said Community Preservation Committee Chairman Dan Coughlin.

Coughlin said his group was hoping to approve a larger amount of funding, but was told by the town’s attorney that they would be in violation of the law.

“We’re looking at ways to approach the state to find other alternatives where CPA might be used, but at this point it’s not anything likely to happen [for] town meeting,” Coughlin said. “But we’ve committed with the people at Thaxter to explore other alternatives.”

The problem is one town officials have broached before, when the Housing Authority requested over $80,000 from CPC to replace the facility’s heating system in 2009.

Community Preservation rejected that request as well, an amount that was funded by the state thereafter.

Yet now that state funding is even more scarce - Hingham has been allocated only $48,000 for three years under the state’s “formula funding” – local money looks even more attractive.

Napier said she has been trying to arrange for meetings with their state representation to begin those discussions on how to allow towns to spend CPC money on maintenance issues, but weather problems have so far delayed things.

In the meantime, Napier said she has been working with the Community Preservation Committee on finding a way to fund some items.

“The CPA committee has gone above and beyond with trying to assist me and the residents here with just trying to have the application fit those definitions,” Napier said. “Their hands are tied by these definitions. It limits how the money can pass through that committee on to a housing authority.”

Until those regulations change, however Coughlin said the state will have to step up for the other expenses.

“The remainder should come from the state as I see it. It’s a state project,” he said.

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