To the Editor:
On Nov. 8, Watertown voters will have a chance to approve the Community Preservation Act, which would provide funding for three kinds of projects in town: historic preservation, expanding and improving open space and recreational facilities, and providing affordable housing. These projects would benefit ALL residents of the community, and could be proposed by anyone. We strongly support approval of the CPA, both because we believe that it will enhance the quality of life in our town in many substantive ways, and also for a more personal reason: we have close friends who are homeless.
They are a family of seven. They were forced to move to the Boston area to obtain medical care for their son, afflicted with an extremely rare and life-threatening disease for which there is no permanent cure. The parents have spent their life savings to save their son. Now, even though both parents and some of the children are working, their combined income is insufficient to rent an apartment adequate for such a large family. Affordable housing for them is simply unavailable anywhere in the area.
And our friends are not alone. There are residents of Watertown sleeping in their cars. Requests for housing assistance are skyrocketing, according to Watertown’s Social Services Resource Specialist, the Helen Robinson Wright Fund at the First Parish, and the Marshall Home Fund, (which provides financial assistance to seniors). Applicants for apartments owned by the Watertown Housing Authority often wait many years before a unit becomes available. Public housing for the elderly is bursting at the seams, with long waiting lists as well.
It is true that there will be additional so-called “affordable” apartments offered within the new developments on Arsenal Street, but these units will be offered at the highest rents possible – about $1400.00/mth for a one-bedroom unit rented to a couple, and $1800.00 for a three-bedroom apartment rented to a family of four. For our homeless friends, $1800.00/mth would be entirely out of reach.
The availability of affordable housing is critical in maintaining the economic, cultural, and ethnic diversity that makes Watertown such a special place to live. Young people who grow up in town, some of whom are our firefighters, police officers, and teachers, should not be driven out of town by high housing costs. Passage of the CPA is our only hope for the creation of more truly affordable housing. The rental units on Belmont St. owned by Metro West Collaborative Development are a great example of how affordable units could be developed using CPA funds.
The vacant lot on Mt. Auburn St. opposite Baptist Walk, would be an ideal location for additional housing for the elderly. The old police station might also be considered for affordable housing development. There are many other opportunities for expanding our stock of affordable housing, but precious few funding mechanisms other than the CPA, federal and state funds having substantially dried up.
Many oppose the CPA in fear of hurting the chances for large-scale school renovation. There is no question that a first-rate school system is essential for our community. Years ago, we worked very hard to pass the debt exclusion override that built an addition to the Lowell School, renovated the Middle School, and made additional repairs across the system. And we will do this again in a heartbeat, if and when the need arises. But the opportunity to fund the CPA, and create more urgently needed housing, is on our doorstep right now. Our homeless friends cannot wait. We as a town cannot afford to wait. If the schools need extra money in the future, we, and countless other parents, teachers, and supporters of education will be there to help. But if we defer passage of the CPA, who will be there to advocate for the poor and economically disadvantaged? We urge a YES vote on Question 5 on November 8th.
Will and Susan Twombly
(Editor’s Note: the last letters about the Nov. 8 election will be run on Sunday Nov. 6, and must be submitted by Saturday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.)