SELECTMEN NEWS: Wilmington’s Lack Of Affordable Senior Housing Spotlighted

WILMINGTON, MA — At last week’s Selectmen’s Meeting, the Board received a presentation from Maureen Hickey, the Executive Director of the Wilmington Housing Authority.

“There’s been a lot of discussion recently about senior affordable housing and senior subsidized housing,” prefaced Town Manager Jeff Hull. “Maureen Hickey, Planning Director Valerie Gingrich, and myself have had discussions about the challenges that the Housing Authority faces in terms of maintaining what they have, let alone the prospects of additional housing. I thought it would be timely for the board and public to hear about some of those challenges and any additional opportunities for funding.”

Hickey had prepared answers to 12 questions that Board members and the Town Manager had sent her leading up to the meeting.

“The Wilmington Housing Authority was incorporated in 1950,” began Hickey. “We opened our first development at Deming Way in 1952 — the front 40 apartments. In 1987, we added the extension in the back of Deming Way — another 29 apartments. We also have 13 singe-family houses (3 bedrooms) scattered throughout Wilmington. Those are all the units that we have. We have 82 units in total, including 11 section 8 vouchers. All the Deming Way units are 1-bedrooms. NuPath rents a 4-bedroom unit for disabled clients.”

“This is all state public housing that’s overseen by the Department of Housing and Community Development, a state agency,” continued Hickey. “The state sets ALL the regulations and guidelines for how we do everything — how we manage our waiting list, what we charge for rent, etc. The Housing Authority does NOT get a subsidy from the state to run our operation. We operate with the funds we receive from rent… We do receive capital improvement funds from the state… We’ve received $1.3 million in the past 10 years. The money goes quickly when you use state procurement laws, bids, prevailing wage rates, etc. It’s a complicated process.”

“Our units are in pretty good condition. We do what we can to keep them viable. They’re safe,” added Hickey. “I have a full-time maintenance person who works really hard…. We could always use more funding. We try to spread the money around we get from the state every year. We’ve done a few of our houses over and made some improvements to Deming Way in the past few years.”

Hickey noted that 30 current Deming Way residents got in using a veterans preference, meaning they are a veteran or spouse of a veteran. Applicants receive a preference if they’re from the town of Wilmington, work in the town of Wilmington, or are a veteran.

“A local veteran would get into Deming Way pretty quickly — probably 6-12 months,” said Hickey. “A local non-veteran is probably waiting 2-4 years to get into Deming Way, which is a long time. Veterans get a preference everywhere in the country. A veteran living in Florida who applied to Deming Way would get preference over a Wilmington non-veteran.”

“There’s currently 160,000 people on the state waiting list. Wilmington isn’t alone in needing more housing,” explained Hickey. “I’ve been at the Wilmington Housing Authority for nearly 9 years now. The waits have increased, probably doubled, in that time…. For anyone thinking about applying to Deming Way, you should do so and the sooner, the better.”

Income limits at Deming Way recently changed — less than $56,600 for a 1-person family and less than $64,900 for a 2-person family.

“The State Legislature is always talking about trying to build more housing and find more funds,” said Hickey. “We just haven’t seen it in a long time. The state built a lot of units in the 50’s and again in the late 70’s and 80’s. There really hasn’t been a ‘bump up’ since then. Some towns form non-profits to add a few more units here and there. We haven’t been able to do that yet.”

Hickey noted there are grant funding and other funding sources available. Chelmsford, for example, builds developments using Community Preservation funds, which Wilmington does not receive. Private developers can also play a role.

“It’s very complicated, but I do think we should probably spend some more time with [Planning Director] Valerie Gingrich in looking into it because we need more senior housing in this town, that’s for sure,” concluded Hickey.

“I hope we can start putting together a plan to seek some of this multi-facted funding to increase our affordable housing inventory,” responded Selectman Jonathan Eaton.

Watch the discussion, courtesy of Wilmington Community Television, beginning at the at 59-minute, 30-second mark:

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