A ROYAL THANKSGIVING: The Chelsea Collaborative and St. Luke’s-San Lucas Church held a cooperative Thanksgiving Dinner last Tuesday, Nov. 17, for a select group of needy families – including many residents from the flooded areas in the Broadway Glen apartment tower. The crowded church hall was warm with pre-Thanksgiving cheer as volunteers and friends came together for a special meal. Pictured here are Emerson Vasquez, School Committee- elect Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez, Councillor-elect Roy Avellaneda, Erika Ruiz (Miss Belleza Latina USA) and Kashly Reyes (Miss Teen Belleza Latina USA).
The City and at least two potential partners are looking to establish a short-term wrap around services center in the Bellingham Square area to provide food and shelter to the homeless, prostitutes and drug addicted populations that frequent Bellingham Square.
Yet, it’s not coming without some controversy as details of the plan leak out and some try to envision what it might be like – and how it could negatively affect quality of life in Chelsea’s downtown.
Bob Repucci, long-time director of CAPIC, said in an interview this week that he is ready to move on a plan whereby CAPIC would establish a short-term services building at the old Cataldo site – where Centro Latino was supposed to locate before it went defunct. He said he is aligned with several churches, volunteers, City Manager Tom Ambrosino and other political leaders who are passionate about making a dent in the long-standing problem populations in the Square.
“This is a neighborhood center and that’s basically what we’re going to do here,” said Repucci. “We’re trying to embrace these people in the Square and get them the services they need. These people are not going away. They also are not lepers that should be shipped to the outskirts of town. Most of them are from Chelsea and they have alcohol and drug problems. Many grew up here. Many are Latino. We’re going to take these men and women who need help and show them the compassion they need.
“This is not a shelter, it’s not a detox, it’s not a Methadone Clinic, it’s not a treatment center,” he continued. “It’s a place where people can walk in and get the attention they need to help them change their lives if they want to. These are men and women who need help because they have chronic problems. I haven’t seen anybody come up with any other good ideas to change this because it’s been there for years. We are taking the responsibility to do something and help them change their lives. I know it will be successful.”
Repucci said the Center would potentially be open three times a week and would offer a hot meal, a shower, a change of clothes, a clinician by appointment, counseling, financial management assistance, and temporary shelter.
There would be 25 people there at at time and no one would be allowed inside if they are intoxicated. It would also be for Chelsea residents and people in Chelsea who are homeless.
“This isn’t going to be a hang out,” he added. “It’s going to be well supervised and fully supervised…If people come over from Boston or Everett thinking there is a handout happening here, we will refer them to a provider in their area. This is for Chelsea residents and those in Chelsea who are homeless and want to change.”
Those at the service center would also be able to obtain short-term employment by cleaning roofs, shoveling snow and doing other such tasks under supervision.
Ambrosino said he does support the proposal out of a stance of compassion and also out of a stance to develop the Square and the Broadway Business District.
“You have a serious problem in the Square and on the Broadway corridor,” he said. “These people need services. Nothing is going to change unless we get them services and they are able to move elsewhere. This business district and downtown won’t change unless we change this situation. Ignoring it and putting our heads in the sand is not an answer. I’m willing to try anything except doing nothing.”
Ambrosino said the effort by CAPIC to move downtown is independent of the City, but there is potential cooperation through two line-items approved by the City Council on Oct. 19.
In fact, two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) have just gone out with $100,000 available for each. The first one will be to provide emergency food and shelter in the form of dedicated short-term detox beds. The second will be to provide a clinician to treat the population in the Square.
Ambrosino said he expects CAPIC will bid on one or both of the RFPs and he said he also expects Bay Cove Human Services to bid as well.
“I do expect CAPIC is going to bid on one or more of these services that we’re putting out to bid, but those services have nothing to do with the independent project of CAPIC to move some of its services downtown,” he said.
Ambrosino said he would expect that the first RFP could be used for folks who need a night or two of shelter until they can get into permanent housing.
“This will help folks who have an apartment lined up on Nov. 1, and it’s only Oct. 28 and they need somewhere to go,” he said.
Repucci said his plan to move existing services downtown, and perhaps to be a winning bidder on the City’s RFP, is something he believes many in the community are already rallying around – in particular the faith-based community that has noted and discussed the large homeless population in Chelsea.
Repucci himself learned firsthand of the problem from City Navigator Ruben Rodriguez last winter, when he was given a tour of the places under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge where may of the homeless and drug addicted/prostitutes tend to live and congregate.
He said he learned about the people down there, and he learned their personal stories.
He said that gave him a passion to do something about it, and he said he’s a little turned off by the push back from some folks – as he believes this can help a troubled population and solve a long-standing problem for residents.
“These people should be rallying around our efforts to change people’s lives,” he said. “That’s the only way to get them off the streets unless they are found dead under the Bridge due to exposure from the cold. We need to embrace these folks and help those who want to change and stop characterizing them as people who don’t want to change. Many of them lived in Chelsea and had decent lives and lost it all due to drugs, alcohol and other circumstances…Those against this should be more concerned about the men and women on Broadway unsupervised.
“We’re going to be successful in helping these people and showing them there’s a better life they can lead off the Square,” he continued. “I believe it will be the long-term solution to the poverty problem in Bellingham-Shurtleff.”
Repucci said he would like to try the idea for two years and collect data and see if it is working. If not, perhaps there’s a better idea.
“Again, people maybe don’t support this, but I don’t hear anyone coming up with any other suggestions,” he said.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said this week that he believes it’s time for the City to invest in everything from Broadway infrastructure to more firefighters.
Ambrosino said the City has been very conservative in its financial approach over the years, and thus, the finances are in tremendous shape. Now, he said, it might be time to use some money to enhance resident services and beautify the City.
“I agree (that the City has been conservative) and it probably is time that the City start spending on services,” he said. “I think the infrastructure on the Broadway business corridor should be done. I think we could probably spend more in our departments. I’m thinking in particular DPW and the Fire Department. They probably could use a few more individuals.”
In particular, Ambrosino said he has been taken by the potential of City Hall, Bellingham Square and the Broadway business corridor.
He has asked the Planning Department and The Neighborhood Developers to put a fresh set of eyes on the streetscape and on reconfiguring the Square.
“I think Broadway could require some significant investment to improve its aesthetics in the Bellingham Square and Broadway, down the business corridor… I think we need to make it ‘pop’ a little. It has big bones. It has the people and it has the businesses. It has the right mix of residential above the businesses. Again, it has the bones of being something special, but it really needs some attention.”
According to sources, employees of Centro Latino had an outing to celebrate their successful move from their long-time headquarters on Broadway to their new building at the former Cataldo Ambulance building on Hawthorne Street.
After several months of hard work in making that move, a pot luck celebration to bring about a new start for the organization – which was looking for a new executive director – seemed appropriate.
On Monday, quite suddenly, the celebration came to a halt as those same employees and administrators were told by the Board of Centro Latino that, as of that day, they were all laid off and the organization was going to shutter its doors after 26 years of providing educational services and Citizenship classes to the Latino population in Chelsea and surrounding communities.
The story has reverberated throughout the community over the last few days, with many in the non-profit world of Chelsea being shocked by the way that the organization closed up – with little notice to employees or clients, they said.
Chelsea City Manager Thomas G. Ambrosino said, “I’m very sad to hear about the closing of Centro Latino. This organization did outstanding work in the City of Chelsea for many years. The City will work with existing Community Based Organizations in Chelsea to ensure that the critical programming previously provided by Centro Latino continues in some form or fashion.”
Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said Centro’s board indicated it had reached out to local organizations to help with the sudden closure.
“I haven’t gotten any calls,” she said. “They haven’t reached out to us. I found out when the employees found out, which was Monday. I’ve had employees there calling me in tears. I am appalled and can’t believe it. The audacity to have an outing showing gratitude and appreciation for the staff on Friday and then fire them on Monday – that’s absurd…It also shows a lack of thought about what to do with the clients. Before you just shut down, you have the staff calling everyone in the Citizenship classes to let them know and to work out a new situation and give them time to get their documents and applications. They should have done this over a month’s time. I believe they knew this was coming. Again, I am appalled and I can’t believe it.”
Vega said her organization, the Collaborative, was born out of the work of Centro Latino and has a completely different focus than the educational mission of Centro.
Though rumors persisted about the closure when the office didn’t open as scheduled on Monday, there was no confirmation from anyone until Wednesday afternoon.
At that time, Board Vice Chair Anthony Galluccio – a former state senator – issued a letter signed by the board. The letter indicated that they could no longer make the finances of Centro work despite repeated efforts.
“Centro Latino’s Board of Directors announced today that it is winding down business and will file for dissolution and close in the coming weeks,” read the letter.
The letter explained Centro took on Concilo Hispano and its debts in 2009 and expanded services to Cambridge and Somerville, read the letter. Unfortunately, in 2012, Centro suffered major cuts to its ESL programs and was forced to reduce staff and look for new ways to generate revenue.
“Throughout Centro’s existence, our employees have been incredible,” read the letter. “We stood together and tried to save the agency. As Kelly Guenther, Chair of the Board recently explained, ‘We tried every cost cutting measure possible including renegotiating obligations, reducing work hours, furloughing staff and reducing our space by twenty percent. Subsequently, we lost two contracts and knew we could not maintain operations. We worked with Third Sector New England searching for answers like merger and other structural options, but we hit a dead end. Over the past years we made appeal after appeal to anyone who would listen, and we are grateful to those who stood with us.’”
The letter also indicated that Centro will be working on transitioning clients to programs in the coming weeks, and that 70 percent of the agency’s ESL students live in Chelsea and still desperately need the services that Centro offered.
“It was critical that this board work to leave clients and employees in the best possible position and focus on transition,” said Galluccio. “We never recovered from the original cuts in 2012. Recent events made it impossible to continue and we could not keep incurring bills knowing there was no turning point.”
Centro’s letter stated it has been meeting with organizations such as Chelsea Collaborative, ROCA, Bunker Hill Community College, Connect and others to determine how best to transition clients and employees.
Vega, however, disputed that.
“The only thing they’ve done is reached out to us to get used furniture for their new offices; that’s it,” she said.
Centro’s letter concluded with the following:
“This is a sad day for Centro and our community, but hopefully this unfortunate outcome will bring awareness to the dire need that exists to support vulnerable new immigrants and families who need to integrate into our communities, become part of the workforce and improve their lives. The need is as great as ever. We offer special thanks and gratitude to our staff, board members, funders, community partners and clients that have worked with us over the years.”
The letter was signed by Guenther, Galluccio, Linda Cundiff, Jose Lopez and Oliver Sanchez.
Chelsea Police and Fire, along with the State Fire Marshal, are investigating an intentional flooding of the Broadway Glen high-rise apartment building early last Saturday morning using a fire protection standpipe, and the owners of the building could find themselves in a lot more trouble after the situation allegedly uncovered some questionable living conditions.
Fire officials said there was about $500,000 in damages and that they, and police, have secured video footage that clearly shows a male party open a fire system water valve on the sixth floor and then run away. Fire officials estimated that the standpipe valve was open for about 15 minutes before crews from Engine 2 were able to locate it and turn it off.
“We send an additional engine (three engines, two ladders and a Deputy Chief) to all alarm activations and it was a good thing we do because it was a very chaotic scene,” said Deputy Chief John Quatieri. “When we arrived, water was pouring from both elevator shafts. The fire alarm panel indicated water flowing on floors five and six, so the crews from Engine 3 and Ladder 2 started their way up the south stairwell to investigate. Both crews had difficulty getting to floors five and six due to the large number of occupants who were self evacuating. We thought for sure there was a fire on the either floor five or six. As additional companies arrived they were immediately staged in the lobby which was quickly filling with water. Ladder 2 reported they had located an open ‘standpipe connection’ on floor six and was attempting to shut it down. Water flowed for approximately 10 to 15 minutes from the time it was opened until Ladder 2 shut the valve causing substantial damage to the floors below.”
Broadway Glen at 855 Broadway is an 11-story tower with 120 units, so a standpipe for fire suppression is required. The ‘standpipe connection’ is used by the Fire Department in high-rise structures. It is not feasible to stretch hose lines form a pumper to the 10th or 11th floor, so firefighters carry several hundred feet of hose up the stairwells and connect to the Fire Department standpipe connection, which is usually located on each floor in the stairwells.
As firefighters and police began to deal with the flooding, they found water in light fixtures and electrical panels, which was a serious hazard. They evacuated everyone from floor six down, about 150 people, and they took shelter in MBTA buses for several hours. Those on floors seven to 11 sheltered in place.
Fire crews worked the scene for about three hours before residents were allowed inside their apartments.
Two people were injured when they slipped and fell on wet floors, injuring their heads, while trying to evacuate. One was treated on scene and the other was taken to the Whidden. A third man suffered a cardiac issue and is in the cardiac unit at Beth Israel Hospital.
Captain Richard Perisie from the Fire Department’s Fire investigation Unit followed up early this week with the Chelsea Police, Massachusetts State Police and the Massachusetts Fire Marshal’s Office and obtained video footage
They are in the process of identifying that individual.
Beyond that, the flood seemed to uncover a host of living conditions that might be against the City’s Building Codes.
Shortly after the residents returned to their homes, advocates and volunteers began to report terrible living conditions in the units that likely existed long before the flooding.
The Chelsea Collaborative held a tenant meeting with City officials at their Broadway headquarters on Monday afternoon and learned of several stories about mice and unsanitary living conditions that allegedly existed.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino attended that meeting and said this week the City will look at any such problems.
“The City plans to document all existing Code violations and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that those violations are remedied in an expeditious manner,” he said.
Broadway Glen is an affordable housing complex and it sold in early 2014 to a New York group for $9.5 million.
Sam Horowitz of Capital Realty Group in Spring Valley, NY told the Record at the time that his company was excited to be doing business in Chelsea.
They have more than 5,000 units in 13 states and specialize in affordable housing buildings.
The Taste of Chelsea has not only been one of the most popular events of the year, it’s also been one of the most successful fundraisers for any local organization.
Joseph Vinard, co-founder and chair of the Taste of Chelsea, said that the event has raised more than $500,000 for HarborCov, a Chelsea-based organization that provides free safety and support services, along with housing and economic opportunities that promote long-term stability for people affected by violence and abuse.
“We have raised over a half million dollars and it all goes to HarborCOV,” proudly stated Vinard, who co-founded Taste of Chelsea with former director Laurie Holmes.
Lynn Peters and Kourou Pich are the current co-directors of HarborCOV, which was founded in 1998 and has been lauded for its professional, comprehensive approach to addressing violence within families and communities.
The 12th Annual Taste of Chelsea 2015 will be held Monday, Sept. 21, from 5 to 8 p.m., at 99 Marginal Street in Chelsea. The event was held at the old Massport Garage on Broadway before being moved three years ago to the current location, a new park that was generously offered as a site for the event by Eastern Minerals.
According to Vinard, thirty-one local food vendors and restaurants will participate, tying the record for most vendor participation in the event’s 12-year history.
Most of the vendors are from Chelsea, but East Boston, Revere, Everett, Winthrop, and Saugus businesses, as well as some from other communities, will also be represented.
Three Chelsea hotels, the Terranova Grille at the Wyndham Chelsea Hotel, the Residence Inn by Marriott, Boston Logan Airport/Chelsea, and TownPlace Suites by Marriott, Boston Logan Airport/Chelsea, will have food stations at the event.
Taste of Chelsea’s ability to consistently draw a large following is impressive. Vinard said between 500 and 700 people will buy tickets and attend the food festival, making it one of the most well attended in the region.
“It’s a great event,” said Vinard. “People look forward to it.”
Vinard, who is division president of Chelsea Bank, which is a division of East Cambridge Savings Bank on Broadway, Chelsea, is being assisted by a committee of 15 volunteers.
Asked if the excitement is building toward Monday’s Taste of Chelsea, Vinard replied, “We’re very excited. The event is a few days away and we’re ready to rock and roll.”
Parking is available on Marginal Street. Cataldo Ambulance will provide a bus to transport attendees to the site. Tickets are available online at $35 in advance. Tickets will be $40 at the door. Blocks of ten tickets or more are $30 apiece.
The featured restaurant and food vendors include:
Adriana’s Pastry and Café, Winthrop
Albert A. Russo Imports – BelGioioso Cheesea, East Boston
Al fresco, Chelsea
Arthur’s Deli/Meho Place, Chelsea
Blackstrap BBQ, Winthrop
Bobby C’s Ristorante, Melrose
Boston Yogurt, Chelsea
The New Brown Jug, Chelsea
Buccieri’s Pizzeria, Chelsea
Chelsea Fire Hot Sauce, Chelsea
Crown Coffee, Wakefield
Dockside Restaurant, Chelsea
Dunkin’ Donuts, Everett Avenue, Chelsea
Fusion Foods, Chelsea
Golden Cannoli, Chelsea
Kowloon Restaurant, Saugus
La Siesta Restaurante, Chelsea
Mandarin Buffet, Chelsea
Naked Juice, Boston
Peach’s and Cream, Chelsea
Piantedosi Baking Company, Malden
Polar Beverages, Worcester
Pollo Campero, Chelsea
Residence Inn by Marriott, Boston Logan Airport/Chelsea
Spinelli’s Pasta and Pastry Shop, East Boston
Starbucks Coffee, Chelsea
Stop & Shop, Everett
Terranova Grille, Chelsea
TownPlace Suites by Marriott, Boston Logan Airport/Chelsea
Volare Cucina Italiana and Bar, Revere
(Editor’s Note: Some factual information used in this story regarding HarborCov and Taste of Chelsea, including the list of food vendors, was taken directly from the HarborCov Web site).
Monday, August 17
Jose Rosales, 27, of 83 Grove Street, Chelsea, was arrested for unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failing to wear seat belt and speeding.
Tuesday, August 18
Jonathan Norena, 24, of 120 Sumner Street, East Boston, was arrested for outstanding warrant.
Wednesday, August 19
Elyhas Diaz, 19, of 116 Hawthorrne Street, Chelsea, was arrested for larceny of motor vehicle and receiving stolen motor vehicle.
Angel J. Diaz, 18, of 70 Waite Street, Revere, was arrested for larceny of a motor vehicle and r4eceiving stolen motor vehicle.
Samantha Estela Rodriguez, 25, of 551 Spencer Avenue, Chelsea, was arrested for larceny of a motor vehicle, receiving stolen motor vehicle and carrying a dangerous weapon in motor vehicle.
Kristopher Goodrich, 33, of 167 Kennedy Drive, Malden, was arrested for shoplifting and two outstanding warrants.
Christopher Steriti, 29, of 269 Border Street, Boston, was arrested for possession of Class B drug.
Steven Torres, 36, homeless, was arrested for possession of Class B drug.
Caio C. Ciochetti, 27, of 136 Elm Street, Everett, was arrested for possession of Class B drug.
Kiara Gonzales-Ramirez, 20, of 47 Estes Street, Lynn, was arrested for breaking and entering in the nighttime, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and misleading police.
Devante Cartagena, 20, of 789 Broadway, Everett, was arrested for breaking and entering in the nighttime.
Thursday, August 20
Ian Anders Goode, 29, of 1214 Cedarcroft Road, Baltimore, MD, was arrested for breaking and entering, trespassing and possession of Class E drug.
Kelley A. Hardy, 33, of 37 Glendale Street, Everett, was arrested for unarmed robbery and outstanding warrant.
Melissa J. Hardy, 37, of 763 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrested for unarmed robbery, and five outstanding warrants.
Mary Hardy, 66, of 763 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrested for interfering with police officer.
Friday, August 21
Carlos Perez, 28, of 160 Park Street, Chelsea, was arrested for outstanding warrant.
Lisa Selvage, 50, 10 Forsyth St., Chelsea, was arrested on warrants and shoplifting.
Rogenia Cobb, 42, 105 Chauncy St., Boston, was arrested for shoplifting.
Thomas Dunn, 34, 56 Franklin Ave., Chelsea, was arrested for assault and battery on a police officer, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, threat to commit crime.
Elizabeth Spatcher, 28, 900 21st St., Other, FL, was arrest ed on a felony warrant.
Michael Silva, 34, 22 Athens Dr., Saugus, was arrested for possessing Class A drug.
Jose Gonzalez, 57, 121B Hawthorne St., Chelsea, was arrested for assault and battery an d with disturbing the peace.
Anna Bailey, 29, 124 Spencer Ave., Chelsea, was arrested on a warrant.
Jaspar Dodson, 28, 855 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrested for trafficking cocaine, conspiracy to violate drug law, possessing to distribute Class B drug.
Sir Dodson, 27, 855 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrested for trafficking in cocaine, conspiracy to violate drug law, warrants, possessing to distribute Class B drug.
Mary Sackor, 34, 25 Standaford St., Boston, was arrested for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.
Alexus Iraola, 18, 78 Reed Ave., Everett, was arrested for larceny over $250, attempted breaking and entering night time for felony and dangerous weapon.
Tanya Morris, 35, 15 Staples Ave., Everett, was arrested for shoplifting.
Cesar Alicea, 19, 53 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrested on a felony warrant.
Francisco Correa, 39, 28 Malden St., Everett, was arrested for possessing Class A drug.
Zacarias Concepcion, 28, 307 E. 8th St., Boston, was arrested for distribution of Class A drug.
Saulorenan Solisborjas, 20, 182 Hitchborn St., Revere, was arrested for disorderly conduct and threat to commit a crime.
Norma B orjas, 41, 182 Hitchborn St., Revere, was arrested for disorderly conduct, assault, interfering with police officer and threat to commit a crime.
Meneel Hernandez, 17, 103 Garland St., Everett, was arrested for receiving stolen motor vehicle, resisting arrest, assault and battery on a police officer (2 counts).
William Ginepra, 39, 5 Admirals Way, Chelsea, was arrested for assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (2 counts).
William Morales, 18, 147 Shurtleff St., Chelsea, was arrested for unarmed robbery, assault and battery, intimidate witness, resisting arrest.
Luis Tizol, 22, 147 Shurtleff St., Chelsea, was arrested for un armed robbery, assault and battery (2 counts).
Jarrod Harris, 38, 147 Russell ST., Everett, was arrested for assault with a dangerous weapon, threat to commit a crime, conspiracy, witness intimidation, warrant.
Angel Andrades, 45, 5 Webster Ct., Chelsea, was arrested for possessing Class A drug.
Jery Hernandez, 19, 112 Grove St., Chelsea, was arrested on warrants.
Mary Caraballo, 23, 472 Riverside, Lawrence, was arrested on a warrant.
Jeffrey Whitley, 52, 767 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrestrd for trespassing.
Tomas Barillas, 18, 26 Grove St., Chelsea, was arrested on a warrant.
Cesar Alicea, 19, 53 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrested on warrants.
Emidio Diniz, 45, 38 Grove St., Chelsea, was arrested for operating motor vehicle with suspended/revoked license, uninsured motor vehicle, unregistered motor vehicle.
Guy Waters, 36, 35 Dennis St., Boston, was arrested for possessing to distribute Class drugs, resisting arrest.
Rosemarie Lewis, 51, 16 Shurtleff St., Revere, was arrested for operation of motor vehicle unlicensed, one way violation, leaving scene of property damage.
Stacey Doe, 46, 150 Captains Row, Chelsea, was arrested on warrants.
Jose Colon, 18, 199 Chestnut St., Chelsea, was arrested for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Jessica Palilunas, 26, 66 Englewood Ave., Everett, was arrested for aggravated assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Nicole Castro, 28, 185 Fells Ave., Medford, was arrested on warrants.
Norma Cruz, 33, 1 Webster Ct., Chelsea, was arrested for shoplifting.
Robert Nicoli, 50, 738 W. Briar Pl., Chicago, IL, was arrested for possessing Class b drug, conspiracy to violate drug law.
William Garcia, 29, 70 Franklin Ave., Chelsea, was arrested for distribution of drugs, possessing Class B drug, conspiracy to violate drug law.
Kathy Hawes, 50, 7 Temple St., Cambridge, was arrested for shoplifting.
Henry Acosta, 21, 59 Burma Rd., Chelsea, was arrested on a warrant.
Kevin DiGaetano, 23, 973 Broadway, Chelsea, was arrested on felony warrant.
Thomas Fitzpatrick, 49, 39 Winlock Rd., Boston, was arrested on felony warrants.
Chelsea’s Juan Vega has left the Broadway headquarters of Centro Latino for the last time this week, but he’s begun a new commute to the State House at the same time – agreeing this week to join Jay Ash, state secretary for Housing and Economic Development, as a specialist in developing local leadership and community organizations statewide.
Vega will be the assistant secretary for communities and programs, and his first day on the job was yesterday, July 1.
“Last week we talked and he asked me to join his team and I accepted,” said Vega. “I’ll be joining Jay as assistant secretary for communities and programs. He has this grand vision for getting more cities and towns to plan collaboratively on economic development, especially Gateway Cities. I think Jay recognized my experience working here and my coalition and collaborative building here could help to get folks talking to each other statewide. We hope to get people talking more about developing downtowns, infrastructure and even roads.”
Ash said he was glad to have Vega working with him after many years of collaborating with him in Chelsea. He said he hopes to create the same community-based organization structure statewide that was built in Chelsea.
“I am very excited Juan said ‘yes,’” said Ash. “I have known him for many years and greatly admired his work, many times being the beneficiary of his work and many times being the target of his work. He did things thoughtfully and the right way. I’ve tapped Juan for this because I have a great deal of respect for him, both politically and as a community-based organization leader. One thing we’re really focused on here is creating leadership – producing it where it doesn’t exist and enhancing it where it does exist. Juan has been central to that effort in Chelsea. The spirit of leadership we had in Chelsea can be duplicated across the state and Juan was a big part of creating that in Chelsea.”
Ash said the position is a statewide position and will mean that Vega will be traveling the state to create a replica of Chelsea’s success model.
Vega said he has been interested in doing work for the state for some time, and considered joining former Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration a few years ago. However, when Ash was chosen as secretary, Vega said he was keenly interested in joining the team if it worked out.
“I do a ton of state contracts here at Centro Latino,” he said. “It always caught my attention and I needed a break from the non-profit scene after 17 years here and to change up the scenery a bit…It is hard. This organization is 25 years old and I am have been the head of it for 17 years. I”m the fourth executive director. When I got here, I did help build the organization and the brand and helped Centro look beyond Chelsea’s boundaries…I’m confident the organization will be fine without me. There’s a lot of work being done on education and housing. It has been bittersweet. As the final day got closer, it began to get surreal because it’s been so much a part of my life. I am able to walk to the office from my house many times and now I’ll have a regular commute into town.”
Centro Latino has put an inte
rim director in place for the time being.
They’ve also engaged the consultant Third Sector New England to assist the Board of Directors in searching for a permanent director to lead them onward.
Vega, who is also a commissioner at the Chelsea Housing Authority, said he was unsure if he would be able to maintain his seat on that board. He said the question has been posed and he will address that situation when he gets an answer.
After a fast and furious opposition emerged from Mill Hill neighbors to the 60-unit affordable housing apartment building proposed at the French Club over the past month, The Neighborhood Developers said it will take comments to heart, but defended the need for affordable housing in that neighborhood.
“We’ll spend the next month revising our plans and hopefully correct the problem areas and address them and continue our effort to create affordable housing for people who are living her and want to continue living her, and simply continuing Chelsea’s great revival,” said TND Director Ann Houston this week. “Clearly we’re a little surprised at the response because we know how much Chelsea needs affordable housing. We’ve been hearing from so many residents in Chelsea and city officials about the need for housing affordable to Chelsea residents who have been here. There is a growing concern about gentrification.”
She cited that the last affordable housing project they did in Chelsea garnered 1,200 applications – many more than the number of units available.
TND has been active in Chelsea for many years and successfully developed The Box District and other smaller projects in the central part of the city. However, when acquiring the French Club and its parking lot and beginning to develop near a much more traditional residential neighborhood – that being Mill Hill – the affordable housing developers ran into a wall of sudden opposition.
TND purchased the former Club for $975,000 in September 2014, and purchased the parking lot next door this past March. An extension of Spencer Avenue running between the Club and the parking lot was discontinued by the City Council in early May – and many neighbors have said they were not apprised of that change.
Hundreds of neighbors have signed petitions against the project, and many believe there is already too much affordable housing in Chelsea. Others have said they would like to see home ownership opportunities at the site.
Councillor Matt Frank, who initially supported the project, said last week that he has withdrawn that support because his constituents are so adamantly opposed to the project and because he doesn’t believe there was enough communication.
TND folks, however, said that the average income in Mill Hill is $57,000 and that’s well-within the limits for affordable housing. They also said that most of the development in that area of the City has been market rate housing, and other such market-rate developments threaten to drive up rents all over Chelsea.
“There has been right around the elementary school a fair amount of housing developed, but not for families or children,” said Houston. “We were and continue to be very excited to develop housing at this site that is really affordable to families in Chelsea and is able to get children right across the street to the Burke elementary complex. We do have to continue to make sure we have housing for people who have been in Chelsea and have been Chelsea residents and who we fear will be pushed out. We see a proposal for a 692-unit apartment complex that’s all market rate on Everett Avenue. That can help drive up rents across the community.”
Aside from that, though, Houston said they have heard Mill Hill loud and clear.
“We have heard concerns neighbors have raised and we’re taking them very, very seriously,” she said. “We wish we would have had the opportunity to talk outside a public meeting. We appreciate that didn’t happen and will find other opportunities to sit down with the neighbors.”
TND’s Emily Loomis said they believe there was good communication on the project, something TND has been criticized about.
She said they knocked on doors, had conversations and answered questions. If no one answered the door, they left fliers with information about the proposal.
Another point of contention has been the discontinued street on Spencer Avenue, which many Mill Hill residents use to get to the City Hall area without having to go all the way down Broadway.
“I’m not sure if people realize there’s still a cut through on Toomey Street,” Houston said. “Taking the street was in line with the other sorts of actions the City has done to help development, particularly private development. I am sure if you’re used to the cut-through, it feels significant, but taking Toomey Street curve will quickly become the normal driving pattern and won’t represent a problem.”
Finally, TND said it didn’t believe there were any conflicts of interest that played a part in the development of the French Club.
Planning Board Chair Tuck Willis is on the Board of Directors for TND and, thus, was listed on the deed for the entity that purchased the French Club. That said, Willis recused himself from the proceedings, and other members of the Planning Board with ties to TND are simply volunteers.
“I think the state Conflict of Interest law is very, very clear and mean to protect against these things,” she said. “I think you saw that when the one member with ties to TND recused himself in a good and forthright manner. One other member of the Planning Board volunteers with TND (Henry Wilson) and was frankly one of our toughest questioners. I noted members nodding in support of neighbors. I am sure when they’re ready to make a decision, they’ll make an unbiased suggestion…We don’t think we have a tight ‘in’ with either of the boards. We think people have been operating in a very forthright manner.”
The matter will be addressed at the Zoning Board of Appeals on July 14, and then again at the Planning Board on July 28.