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By Katrina Margolis
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Medfield resident Suzanne Siino spearheaded the Medfield Inclusion Project over a year ago. As of December 20, her passion and dedication is still as strong as ever, however the obstacles within the town and the state are still as difficult. Siino and a group of similarly-minded and passionate citizens met at the Medfield Public Library to further discuss the Medfield Inclusion Project and the next steps that need to be taken.
“There was huge amount of passion at the last town meeting and it’s really fizzled out,” Siino explained. “People are sitting back thinking it’s being fixed and it’s not.” The goal of the Citizens Advocacy Group is perfectly defined by their mission statement: “Concerned citizens of Medfield advocating for inclusive residential housing, jobs, recreation and high quality of life for adult residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Siino explained that when she created this project, her goals were incredibly widespread, and while they still are, they have to move forward in smaller steps as they are able. “For now we can keep the mission larger and keep some of the goals a little bit smaller because of the sudden need for housing here, so I just wanted to break it down.”
The housing Siino and the rest of the group want would count towards the town’s Chapter 40B housing quota. This is housing that allows developers the ability to override local zoning bylaws to increase the amount of affordable housing in areas where less than 10 percent of the housing is defined as affordable.
“What we’re trying to develop are homes where the individuals do not have Section 8 vouchers yet; they can take eight to 10 years to get. We may never get them. The state’s not giving them out,” Siino elaborated. Many of those in attendance, Siino included, have adult children that have intellectual disabilities, so this is a project that is very close to their hearts.
“It’s particularly difficult to develop something like this in Medfield because the cost of housing here is super high, so agencies can’t afford to buy buildings here,” Siino explained. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have a need. It just means they can’t afford to buy here. It’s important to remember, though, that in developing a house for people with special needs, there are two costs: it’s not just the cost of housing, but the cost of the care, as well. You need a home, and you have the costs associated with that, but then you also have the home and all of the needs that the residents have, so it’s doubly expensive because of that.”
Many of the obstacles the group faces are due to the procedures and rules of the state. For example, individuals cannot apply for grants or permits. However, many of the appointed people who can apply are exceptionally busy, and it is not necessarily a priority of theirs to do so. “We can do anything we want right now, but it won’t count towards 40B. We have to do it the right way and proceed in the correct way,” Siino explained.
Moving forward, Siino wants to apply for Local Action Units, which is also called a “friendly 40B.” Siino explained: “Basically, the town says ‘Yes, we want to create a house for people with special needs through Local Action Units. We will give special permits, change zoning, give you money; we will do something for you - we will help you create this group home, and therefore, the state will count it as 40B.’ We could raise money individually, but we would also need something from the town.”