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Increase in homelessness prompts a look at zoning changes at Beacon Hill hearing

December 18, 2013 05:48 PM

With more than 4,000 Massachusetts families living in motels or emergency shelters, a few lawmakers suggested Wednesday it’s time to look at the state’s zoning laws to encourage construction of more affordable housing.

During a legislative oversight hearing to examine a rise in homelessness, Sen. James Eldridge, co-chair of the Housing Committee, said most people agree that housing people in motels and hotels is not a solution for homeless families, but said there is not enough affordable housing available to prevent the problem.

The Department of Housing and Community Development spends roughly $1.1 million a week on shelter, a figure that ticked up when the number of homeless families began rising over the summer despite increased spending by the Legislature and the Patrick administration to address the problem. The number hit an all-time high in October when 2,038 families were housed in emergency shelters. It has hovered around the same since, according to DHCD.

“The alternative is those families would be literally living on the streets,” Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, said during the hearing.

If the state wants to solve the homelessness crisis, there needs to be more federal and state funding for construction of affordable housing, Eldridge said during the hearing.

Many suburban communities place restrictions on affordable housing that contribute to the homelessness problem, with some prohibiting construction of multi-family units, Undersecretary of Housing Aaron Gornstein told lawmakers on the committee. “There is a tremendous need for more multi-family housing,” he said.

“We do need to build more housing, more affordable housing, as well as more market rate housing,” Gornstein added.

Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Brighton), House co-chair of the committee, wanted to know if the rise in homelessness was a national problem, and what other states were doing to create affordable housing solutions. Gornstein said during a national conference this past summer housing officials from around the country talked about how they were all seeing a “significant increase” in the number of homeless.

In November 2012, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a goal of creating 10,000 multi-family units each year. As of October 2013, there have been 6,268 building permits pulled for multi-family homes, compared to 3,777 during the same time in 2012, according to DHCD.

Eldridge asked if 10,000 units were not enough to address the problem. Gornstein described the figure as “ambitious.”

Affordable housing is expensive to build, and the federal government has walked away from building housing projects during the Reagan administration, advocates said.

Currently 100,000 people are on a waiting list for federal Section 8 affordable housing assistance, according to Peter Gagliardi, executive director of HAP Housing, which provides housing assistance to people in Hampshire and Hampden counties in western Massachusetts.

Gagliardi said the state is facing a systemic problem that is much larger than the 4,000 people currently in shelters and motels. There are 200,000 people in the state living at the federal poverty level and at risk of losing their homes, he said.

Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) asked Gornstein how much affordable units cost to build. He estimated total development costs somewhere around $300,000 per unit.

Rep. Matthew Beaton, a Republican from Shrewsbury, asked if the state took steps to significantly increase subsidized housing would there be unintended consequences on market rate housing. Gornstein said he did not think it would create an issue.

Gornstein said the state cannot solve the problem alone. He said one of the major challenges has been the recent increase in the number of families needing emergency shelter.

Nationwide, states are seeing a surge in homelessness driven by the recent recession and foreclosure crisis, according to Gornstein. Massachusetts is not alone in facing the problem that necessitates an aggressive approach on several fronts, he said, including affordable housing and job training.

“We need a good strong federal partner to be able to produce even more units of affordable housing,” he said.

David Hedison, executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority and CHOICE INC. – a non-profit subsidiary of the Chelmsford authority - said many communities cannot afford land to build affordable housing. Expensive land means municipal officials need to think more creatively about ways to build, including regional projects or borrowing, he said.

He added communities cannot rely on private developers to build much-needed affordable housing.

About a year ago, Hedison said he pretended to be a homeless person looking for an affordable unit. He called building managers at a development that received tax credits and other state assistance to build a certain number of affordable units. The building managers told him they were not accepting any names for the wait list – it was full.

The following week, he visited the development and introduced himself as the executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority. He told them his mother needed an affordable unit. He was told they had three available, he told lawmakers.

Hedison said public housing officials are held accountable, and “anyone receiving dollars to create affordable units also needs to be held accountable.”

Other advocates said policymakers need to solve the underlying problems that create homelessness, like job training and education.

Chris Norris, executive director of Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, said the Patrick administration’s two-year-long HomeBASE program worked by keeping thousands of families in homes. However, there was not enough job training available to keep low-income people afloat.

“Families were housed for two years. We did that effectively. Not many of them saw their incomes increase,” Norris said.

For example, 15 families who lost their HomeBASE rental assistance dropped out of job training because they lost their homes and were forced to move, according to Norris.

There were approximately 5,400 families enrolled in the state's HomeBASE rental assistance program that started to roll off the program. The assistance is scheduled to end for all recipients by June 30, 2014. Since July, assistance already ended for approximately 3,000 families. DHCD is issuing 500 state rental assistance vouchers under the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) so some of those families have housing, Gornstein said.

Altia Taylor, 30, is a single mother who will soon be forced to leave her apartment in Dorchester because her HomeBASE assistance came to an end in November. After Jan. 31, she has no idea where she and her 15-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son will live.

“I don’t really know what my next steps are,” she told reporters after testifying before the committee.

Taylor said the HomeBASE program helped her for two years by giving her family stability after they lived in shelters. She is now waiting to hear from the Boston Housing Authority about her application for a permanent place to live.

Before the oversight hearing began, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker outlined his plan to move families living in motels into more permanent housing within his first year in office if elected.

His short-term plan calls for sending “multi-disciplinary assessment teams” to work with families in hotels and motels to develop a plan to stabilize their living situations. He also called for better communication between state agencies to assist families on the brink of homelessness, greater flexibility for regional public and private agencies, and “sensible” changes to state laws and regulations that he says push people into homelessness.

McGovern pushes bill to help train service dogs for vets

December 6, 2013 08:56 PM
McGovern Pushes Legislation To Help Fund Service Dogs For Veterans (via

By Shujie Leng BU Washington News Service WASHINGTON–Trained service dogs can provide many therapeutic benefits to military veterans suffering from both physical wounds and post-traumatic stress syndrome, Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester said Tuesday…

Shrewsbury business owner running for governor

December 5, 2013 05:43 PM

Republican Charlie Baker faces competition within his party from a Shrewsbury small business owner.

While his candidacy has flown outside the radar to date, Mark Fisher, a 55-year-old who identifies himself with the Tea Party and has never sought public office, announced his candidacy for governor Nov. 25. Fisher owns a metal manufacturing business, Merchant’s Fabrication, located in Auburn.

Reached by phone, Fisher declined to be interviewed by the News Service. A campaign aide later said he would not do any interviews before a kickoff event Dec. 16 in Auburn.

In a press release announcing his candidacy, Fisher said he hoped for a “spirited primary” against Baker, who has veered toward the center since his 2010 loss for governor although he swerved to the right this week with his pick of Karyn Polito, also of Shrewsbury, as his running mate.

On his campaign website, Fisher said he hoped to remove all Massachusetts Turnpike tolls if elected, and the opposition to tolls is the only topic on the issues page on his website, which also features a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick opposing his planned $9 million office suite renovation and calling on the governor to resign.

A licensed engineer, Fisher touted his private sector experience, including employment at Old Colony Envelope Company, a Virginia nuclear power plant, and five years with Raytheon, as qualifiers for his candidacy. Fisher acknowledged he has been unemployed several times during the past 20 years and his site states he “recalls his children made more money from a lemonade stand than he did during a nine month period of unemployment.”

According to the site, he received his final layoff notice in 2008, and on the same day he lost his job he found a manufacturing business for sale and later purchased it, which he still runs today. He financed the business with liens on his house, his mother’s home, and a home equity line of credit. Within four years, he paid off the loan, according to campaign biography.

Fisher listed $45,000 in campaign finance receipts on Wednesday, funds the candidate loaned to his committee; Baker reported a campaign balance of more than $236,000 Thursday, after raising nearly $194,000 in November.

Married for 21 years, Fisher and his wife Margaret have two children. A 1976 Westfield High School graduate, he also graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, a master's degree in manufacturing engineering and an MBA.

NECN to air televised debate between two candidates seeking to replace Ed Markey in Congress

December 5, 2013 11:29 AM

With less than a week to go before a special election, Congressional candidates Sen. Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Republican Frank Addivinola are set for their first televised debate.

New England Cable News announced Thursday morning that Clark and Addivinola will debate at 3 p.m. Friday and the cable channel will air the debate at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Rebroadcasts are planned for Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.

The special election to fill the seat formerly held by Sen. Edward Markey is Tuesday.

Independent James Aulenti of Wellesley and Justice Peace Security candidate James Hall of Arlington are also on the ballot.

- M. Norton/SHNS

A look at the two candidates in Tuesday's special election to replace Ed Markey in Congress

December 4, 2013 11:25 AM

Katherine Clark, the 50-year-old Democratic nominee for the Fifth Congressional District, is heavily favored in the Dec. 10 special election to succeed Edward J. Markey in the US House of Representatives.

Yet Clark, a state senator from Melrose, still faces one last test.

Her Republican opponent, Frank J. Addivinola Jr., a businessman and lawyer with six graduate degrees and conservative views on the Affordable Care Act, guns, gay marriage, and abortion, says he is going to win.

Here are brief biographies of the two candidates. Go to Thursday's Globe North and Globe West for more.

Katherine Marlea Clark
Born: 1963 New Haven, CT
Undergraduate education: St. Lawrence University
Profession: State senator
Self-described political views: Progressive Democrat
Personal life: Married with three school-age boys
Current residence: Melrose
Grocery store of choice: Market Basket
International adventure: Studied abroad in Nagoya, Japan, in 1983

Frank John Addivinola Jr.
Born: 1960 Malden, MA
Undergraduate education: Williams College
Profession: Doctoral student, teacher, lawyer, owner test prep business
Self-described political view: Smaller government, traditional Republican
Personal life: Married
Current residence: Boston
Grocery store of choice: Market Basket
International adventure: From 2002-2006, lived in Odessa, Ukraine, and ran a tourist-focused business there

Massachusetts hunting, fishing licenses for 2014 available

November 30, 2013 04:48 PM

BOSTON (AP) — The new year is a few weeks away but it’s not too early to think about 2014 hunting licenses.

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife says 2014 hunting, sporting, fishing, and trapping licenses will be available for purchase starting on Monday.

They can be purchased at all license vendor locations, MassWildlife District offices, the West Boylston Field Headquarters, and at

Anyone 15 or older needs a license to hunt or for freshwater fishing.

Freshwater fishing licenses for minors ages 15 to 17 are free and can be obtained online.

The department also reminds hunters that all deer harvested during shotgun season must be checked at a check station. Online checking is not available from Dec. 2 until Dec. 14.

Elderly man dies in Shrewsbury fire

November 14, 2013 02:58 PM

SHREWSBURY, Mass. (AP) — Authorities say an 86-year-old man has died in a house fire in Shrewsbury the chief says was difficult to fight because of a large amount of material in the home and a maze-like layout.

Chief James Vuona tells The Telegram & Gazette that resident Richard Hosking had to be rescued by firefighters and died later Wednesday night at the hospital.

His wife, 85,-year-old Anne Hosking, got out on her own but was taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and is expected to survive.

He says firefighters who entered the home were hampered not only by thick black smoke, but a large amount of accumulated belongings and a complicated floor layout.

The cause remains under investigation. The state Fire Marshal’s office is assisting.

State announces money for veterans' housing in Quincy, Brockton and Chelsea

November 4, 2013 05:35 PM

The Patrick administration announced $6 million in new state financial supports on Monday for the development of 44 new units of housing for homeless veterans in Quincy, Brockton and Chelsea.

Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein and Veterans’ Services Secretary Coleman Nee made the funding announcement at the North Bellingham Veterans Project in Chelsea, where money will be spent to develop 10 units of housing as part of a re-use project in the downtown area to convert a former American Legion Hall.

The state bond funds will also be used for new construction projects to build 22 units in Brockton and 12 units in Quincy at East Howard Street with preferences for low-income veterans and their families.

In July, DHCD dedicated $3.3 million to build 35 new units of affordable housing for homeless veterans in Shrewsbury.

– M. Murphy/SHNS

Diwali celebrations held in Boston

November 4, 2013 05:21 PM

Diwali, a five-day Hindu celebration also known as the "festival of lights," began on Nov. 3 and will continue into the weekend as organizations in Boston hold different events to mark the celebration.

From banquets to fashion shows, groups in the greater Boston area have planned a variety of events where people can join the celebration.

Below are some of the Boston area events. If we're missing an event, add it in our comments section.

Miss India Tristate Contest on Nov. 9
The contest will be held at 6 p.m. at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington.
Go to the website for more information.

Diwali Gala on Nov. 9
8 p.m. - midnight
NetSAP Boston, a group for South Asian professionals, is hosting a Diwali Gala at the Taj Boston Hotel (15 Arlington St.). The event will benefit the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which provides food for school children in India. Tickets are on sale here.

The Festival of Lights on Nov. 10
3 p.m. - 7 p.m.
The United India Association of New England will celebrate Diwali at Newton South High School (140 Brandeis Road, Newton Center) with worship, a fashion show, dinner and a children's fancy dress parade. Entrance is free for members, kids under 12 and participants in the cultural program, fashion show and children's parade. Non-members pay $10.

Diwali Banquet on Nov. 10
4:30 p.m.
Gurjar, the Gujarati Association of New England, is holding a banquet at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Inn and Conference Center (50 Warren St., Lowell). The event has a formal of traditional Indian dress code. Tickets cost $20 for students up to 12th grade, $35 for college students with an ID, $55-60 for regular tickets and $75 for sponsors. To book tickets, call Ramila Thakker at 781-229-2401, Deval Kamdar at 978-409-1350, or Eshani Shah at 781-942-1690.

Diwali Dhamaka on Nov. 17
2 p.m.
The Indian Society of Worcester will celebrate with dances, music and food. Included in the event, which will be held at Marlborough Middle School (25 Union St.) is a dance competition. For members, tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids and free for participants. For non members, tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for kids and participants, and all children under 5 enter for free.

Shandana Mufti can be reached at

tags diwali , hindu

Miss Universe Taj Mahal controversy points to India's varied views of the icon

October 11, 2013 11:04 AM

When it comes to pageants, more storms are brewing in that tea cup called business of beauty.

Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo, is facing charges for “disrespecting” the Taj Mahal. Culpo posed for photographers with branded shoes while sitting on the Diana Seat, a marble ledge in front of the white mausoleum named after the late British princess who visited in 1992.

Something that happened in 1992 is only recent history -- and by Indian standards, that is not even counted as history but a significant date a few decades ago. The latest research has put the date of the origin of the Indus Valley Civilization at 6,000 years before Christ, which contests the current theory that the settlements around the Indus began around 3750 BC. The monuments or physical structures of historical significance remain identifying markers of culture and is very much a part of life in India.

To talk a bit about the Taj Mahal: In 1612, Mumtaz Mahal was married to Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. Mumtaz her husband were inseparable and accompanied him on his journeys and military expeditions. She was his comrade, his counselor, and inspired him to acts of charity and benevolence towards the weak and the needy. She bore him fourteen children, and died in childbirth in 1630.

The grief-stricken Shah Jahan was determined to perpetuate her memory for immortality and decided to build his beloved wife the finest sepulcher ever - a monument of eternal love. It was Shah Jahan's everlasting love for Mumtaz that led to the genesis of the Taj Mahal. The sad circumstances which attended the early death of the empress who had endeared herself to the people inspired all his subjects to join in the emperor's pious intentions. After twenty-two laborious years, and the combined effort of over twenty thousand workmen and master craftsmen, the complex was finally completed in 1648 on the banks on the river Yamuna in Agra, the capital of Mughal monarchs.

UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site in 1983. Today The Taj Mahal attracts from 2 to 4 million visitors annually, with more than 200,000 from overseas. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from car parks or catch an electric bus.

From the Indian point of view the Taj Mahal is part of Mughal history. As an imposing historical structure it evokes the ideology and what academics call the constructed collective memory and the life style that has been proposed to the public. People form connections between themselves and the city through shared memory and this serves as a reminder of culture and place identity. This goes for any historical structure and defacing or destroying any historical structure anywhere in the world results in public outcry. Remember when the Lincoln Memorial was vandalized with green paint in July this year? When the perpetrator was finally in custody questions were raised about her immigration status and mental health.

Coming back to Culpo, the question is how the team that supports the Miss Universe franchise not be cognizant of the rules and regulations that ought to be followed in another country? Olivia Culpo was brought there on assignment and my understanding is that she was visiting India on work not leisure. Visitors must take off their shoes while visiting this mausoleum. Shoes are however allowed where Olivia Culpo was sitting but placing them on the seat which allegedly was done tantamounts to sacrilege.

Over the years the Taj Mahal has featured in many announcements or advertisements that have to do with India. It became the symbol of what India has to offer. To increase tourism India has also opened doors through relaxing visas for some countries at least. And foreign investment and brands have been let into the country which was not the case some years ago.

Photo shoots for different products have included the Taj, but according to the Archaeological Survey of India, “there are strict guidelines against any sort of branding and promotion at Taj Mahal” and Culpo’s photo shoot conducted was without prior permission.

Indian culture now struggles with varied perceptions of what life should look like - on the one hand is the space of a global, cosmopolitan culture and, on the other, the space of what is local. The need to be identified by a sense of belonging to a specific place sometimes wins over the global identity. And yet undoubtedly there is constant communication between each of the identities.

Culpo who through social media has expressed her awe and happiness of being in India has perhaps now opened her eyes to cultural norms different that are new to her. And India rejoices and cherishes every visitor as they step into the country. While she struggles to respectfully get out of this glitch, for Indian and Indians the struggle is to preserve historical markers of identity and re-representing them as public places for the world to enjoy. Struggles of different kinds – both have somehow to do with place, yours and mine.

Rajashree Ghosh is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham.

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