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Newton Mayor Setti Warren blocks homeless housing bid in Waban

Posted by Leslie Anderson  June 25, 2013 05:45 PM

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Newton Mayor Setti Warren announced Tuesday he would block funding for a controversial proposal to build affordable housing for formerly homeless people on Beacon Street in Waban, saying residents need more time to discuss the issue.

"There are several reasons why I cannot support the allocation of federal funding for the proposal at this time," Warren said in a statement. “For an affordable housing project to move forward anywhere in the city, I believe it is essential that we first allow for an appropriate period of time for our residents to be heard."

The proposal, called Engine 6, has drawn outcry from residents concerned that the potential tenants could put their children in danger, and who say they were not consulted about the development’s location.

The project, developed by private nonprofit Metro West Collaborative Development and managed by the Pine Street Inn, is projected to cost about $3.1 million; developers had requested about $1.4 million in federal funds managed by the city to move ahead. The project was to be funded with a mix of private and public money.

While Newton Planning Director Candace Havens said that without Newton’s funding, developers still had the option of looking for funding from another source, a spokeswoman for the Pine Street Inn said that Warren’s announcement had halted its plans.

“Affordable housing for very low-income individuals is the key to ending homelessness, and more of this kind of housing is desperately needed,” said spokeswoman Barbara Trevisan in a statement.

“Without the support of the city of Newton, we are unable to move forward with this project," she said. "Pine Street Inn is disappointed that a deserving group of homeless men and women will not find housing in Waban, but we look forward to working with the City of Newton in the future as they move forward on affordable housing.”

The senior housing project manager for Metro West said the nonprofit is “committed to continuing with the Engine 6 project.”

“[We’re] currently evaluating our options moving forward,” said Steve Laferriere in an email. “We remain committed to working with the city and the community to bring this important project to fruition.”

The Newton Housing Partnership and the city’s Planning and Development Board both voted to recommend granting the funding, and their recommendation was set to be forwarded to Warren after a 30-day public comment period set to end July 2.

However, Warren weighed in before the deadline with his announcement Tuesday.

“The decision had to do with the time frame, and allowing the community to get information and get the facts,” said Warren in a phone interview. “Thirty days, to me, is not enough time to do that.”

He said the city is committed to hosting workshops and educational forums this fall to discuss affordable housing, both projects that currently exist in Newton and possible future projects.

Warren said he would be open to considering the Engine 6 proposal again at a later date.

While the proposal had enraged many residents in Waban, others had been supportive of Engine 6. Kathleen Hobson, who lives on Dorset Road with her family in Waban, said she had been working to organize supporters, and had a meeting planned for tonight.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said of Warren’s announcement. “Obviously, we’re going to try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but I don’t know what that’s going to look like.”

Hobson said she was disappointed that the mayor did not wait until the end of the comment period to make a decision about funding.

“It feels like we were doomed,” she said. “I’m sorry the mayor didn’t let the comment period persist to the deadline. There was a deadline. July 2.”

Warren said people are still welcome to submit their comments on the project.

“Listening to the dialogue was very important,” said Warren. “It was very important we have an extended period of time that would not be had within a week or two weeks time.”

Hobson said she will still hold the supporter meeting.

“We have to process together and see if we have the energy to push back,” she said.

Alderwoman Deborah Crossley, who moderated meetings about Engine 6 and was working to educate residents about the proposal, said she was unhappy with the mayor’s decision.

“I urged him not to do this, because to me we had a public process that we had put in place, that everybody was gearing up to participate in,” she said.

While the meetings had been contentious, she said, people were beginning to work through the information, ask questions, and understand.

“I’m very disappointed. I worked very hard on this,” she said. “To be told, close to the time when the event is scheduled, that ‘everything’s off, sorry,’ in order to stop a difficult conversation, makes no sense to me.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.

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