28 Austin St., Newtonville
Engine 6 Newton Housing Advocates: How We Got Started
In April of 2013, Metro West Collaborative Development and the Pine Street Inn, submitted a proposal to preserve the historic Engine 6 firehouse in Waban by creating affordable studio apartments for nine chronically homeless individuals and one live-in supervisor. The proposal had been invited by the City’s Housing staff, who were concerned that federal grant money from HUD—CDBG and HOME funds—was going unused.
The Engine 6 firehouse proposal was thoroughly vetted and received the unanimous endorsement of both the Newton Housing Partnership and the Newton Planning and Development Board. The Planning Board voted to approve the requested funding on June 3, 2013. The proposal then entered the required 30-day period of public comment, which would have ended on July 2, at which point the Mayor would make the final decision on funding.
On June 25, 2013—a full week before July 2—Mayor Setti Warren announced he would not release the necessary funds. “For an affordable housing project to move forward anywhere in the city,” he wrote unaccountably, “I believe it is essential that we first allow for an appropriate period of time for our residents to be heard.
Loud, angry voices opposed to the plans for the Engine 6 firehouse, largely expressing fears about safety and property values, had dominated neighborhood meetings on June 10 and 20. But they were not the only voices to be heard.
Support for the proposal was rapidly gaining momentum when Mayor Warren made his sudden decision. Many neighbors and other Newton residents were looking forward to learning more at a third meeting, scheduled to take place in the City Council chambers on June 27, 2013, when Metro West and Pine Street would respond to questions raised earlier. The City canceled that meeting.
Throughout the summer of 2013, in letters to the Mayor and letters to the editor of the Newton TAB, supporters of affordable housing and the Engine 6 proposal tried to persuade the Mayor to reopen public review of the project and reconsider his decision.
On September 23, we hosted a public program, “Engine 6: The Voice of Support,” at the Eliot Church of Newton, and invited the Mayor and his staff to attend. None did.
Two hundred people turned out to hear presentations by the Pine Street President; the medical director of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program; a psychiatrist who treats the homeless; two residents of Pine Street supportive housing; and a Pine Street housing neighbor.
This led to a petition signed by over 265 Newton residents, but the Mayor remained immovable. Metro West’s option to purchase the Engine 6 property expired on October 3, 2013.
A private developer then purchased the Engine 6 firehouse and converted it into three luxury townhomes.
On October 29, 2013, a group of Engine 6 housing supporters filed an administrative complaint with HUD. We were joined by the Disability Law Center, Inc., and the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston. The complaint alleged that the City’s actions not to fund the Engine 6 proposal constituted unlawful discrimination against persons with disabilities, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other federal anti-discrimination laws.
It also requested that HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development review Newton’s compliance with its own five-year Consolidated Plan, which the City must submit to HUD in order to receive federal housing funds, and which includes a Citizen Participation Plan. The then current plan (FY11-15) specified increasing permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless as a high priority.
In December of 2013, HUD began an investigation of our complaint. Approximately six months later, we entered into protracted settlement negotiations. In May of 2015, the Engine 6 supporters and the other complainants entered into a Conciliation Agreement with HUD and the City of Newton, which required the City to create nine to twelve units of permanent supportive housing for the same number of chronically homeless individuals by May 12, 2020.
Although the deadline in the Conciliation Agreement was not met, the City met its obligation under the Agreement with nine apartments in the expansion of the Golda Meir House near the Woodland T station in Waban, near the site of the Engine 6 firehouse. The nine units will be without age restrictions for individuals with disabilities who have experienced chronic homelessness. Supportive services will be provided, as in the original Engine 6 proposal.