TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury Select Board met on Nov. 30 for a veterans housing funding discussion. Member Anne Marie Stronach joined the meeting via teleconference.
The board reviewed a local funding request from the nonprofit organization Soldier On, which is working to construct the 21-unit Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Village at 1660 Main St., next to Heatherwood Retirement Living. Soldier On consultant Peter Graham said pandemic-related supply chain issues have increased the cost of the development.
The Select Board previously allocated $350,000 out of the town’s $5 million Affordable Housing Trust Fund toward the construction of 21 affordable studio and one-bedroom permanent veterans housing units. Soldier On sought $4 million from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. DHCD requested that Soldier On go back to Tewksbury to seek additional funding through town’s American Rescue Plan Act funding; however, the local funds have already been allocated.
Soldier On requested an additional $500,000 from the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund for a total of $850,000. A letter from Soldier On CEO Bruce Buckley to the board explained that all ongoing operating support will be covered by Soldier On and its partners, including the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the state through rental assistance vouchers; Soldier On will also be fundraising for private support. All 21 units will be included in state affordable housing inventory.
Member Jayne Wellman asked that Graham provide the board with Soldier On’s audited financial documents, adding that she felt the project was a “good use” of funding but needed more information. Other board members wanted to wait and see how the financials work out on the project to avoid allocating money that might not be needed.
Soldier On was encouraged to go back to the state for funding; member Todd Johnson said that the town needs to push back against the state more to stop shifting financial burdens to local funds.
“The state acknowledged that this is a big ask for them and I don't want anybody to leave this meeting thinking that this was the state asking to leverage and not do their fair share, the state does an enormous amount,” Graham said. “I wish we weren't here asking for money to house our homeless veterans. I wish this country wasn't asking independent nonprofits to go grovel for monies to put people into safe, accommodating housing. Our legislative delegation has done a great job across the board for this cause, but it just comes down to, is money in the [affordable housing] trust doing more return on investment than housing for veterans? That’s not my call. I’m here to try to build housing for veterans.”
The board tabled the issue for a future discussion.
Town Manager Richard Montuori reviewed his goals and objectives for 2022. He reviewed his FY20-FY21 goals: continue and undertake capital projects and improvement planning, including working on the regional emergency communications center, elementary school project, and fire station project; develop new or improve and update policies, procedures, and bylaws and continue to work on land transfers from the Commonwealth; and maintain budget, operations, and administration, through hiring new fire and police chiefs, completing a community emergency management plan, overseeing a successful FY21 budget year and FY22 budget process.
Montuori explained that he hopes to continue several of his goals in the future and add several new projects, including determining a use for the Ella Flemings School next to the Dewing School on Andover Street and working to construct boardwalks on open space trails. Montuori plans to continue to work on updating the general bylaw and zoning bylaw, and wants to ensure the successful financial competition of FY22 and FY23 budget process.
He will continue to monitor COVID-19 developments, complete the town website upgrade, and assess cybersecurity needs. The board thanked Montuori and his staff for their work throughout the pandemic ahead of his formal annual evaluation.
Several members discussed concerns over a comment at a recent Lowell City Council meeting that the city wants to move its unhoused population to Tewksbury State Hospital due to a lack of shelter beds for 120 individuals. Wellman said that Tewksbury already faces a strain on public services from the hospital, and if there is a regional approach to sheltering unhoused peoples, Tewksbury should seek to be part of the conversation.
Member James Mackey, one of the board’s representatives to the zoning bylaw committee, requested that public hearings on updating the bylaw be televised at resident request. As the board’s resident cybersecurity expert, he shared that he hopes work on the new town website will be completed by the end of the year and announced that the town received a $10,000 grant for cybersecurity upgrades and assessment.
The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 21, 2021. Residents may find the meeting agenda on the town website. The meeting may be viewed on Comcast channel 99 and Verizon channel 33.