Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Rick Presbrey

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Editorial: Many Ideas, Many Opportunities

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 @ 09:36 AM

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With the New Year comes a fresh start for HAC. Our Incoming CEO Alisa Galazzi has begun work, starting a period of orientation before officially becoming the CEO.

With her arrival here in the office, there is lots of talk and laughter as she meets office staff. She will be on the road visiting our four family shelters and meeting staff and clients there, as well as meeting our many partners within the community through the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and even up in Boston.

It is an exciting time for the agency but, I have to admit, it is anxiety-producing for me. I have always loved what I do, but my time for exiting has come.

At HAC, our focus is helping people. That means that we work with others to get the job done, whether it is counseling a family to prevent foreclosure, bringing a homeless individual in for services, repairing a heating system in the home of a senior citizen, or sheltering a homeless family.

When someone approaches us asking for help, we try to always, say “Yes, we can help.” I know that this is not the way most of the world works, but for me, that’s how I like it. I know that the agency will be able to do even more good in the next 40 years and that it will remain a culture of sensitivity to the needs of others and our community.

I have found solace in the quote, “Decisions of the heart are always right.” I’m not sure who said it, but I have heard that it was Gandhi. Others try to make decisions through their intellect. I suspect the truth is that neither way is always the right way, but the decisions you make based on heart or intellect may be very different.

I will miss HAC. I will miss the new projects in the works and I will miss the wonderful staff. But be assured, I will keep busy. It has been so long since I started anything new that I had forgotten that starting new things is part of my DNA. There are many ideas and many opportunities in store, both for me and for HAC. And I know that helping people will remain the focus for both.

Tags: housing, Affordable Housing on Cape Cod, HAC, Rick Presbrey, Alisa Galazzi, retirement

Post-NOAH: Family Shelters, Outreach, Affordable Housing, All Priorities at HAC

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Sat, Dec 24, 2016 @ 09:45 AM

rick_at_big_fix.jpgMany people were surprised a few months ago when the Boston Globe came out with a comprehensive nationwide study of the causes of homelessness. Turns out, lack of affordable housing is a bigger factor than poverty when it comes to homelessness. That’s why Hawaii has more homeless people per capita than Mississippi.

Those findings make sense when you apply them to Cape Cod where, in recent years, we have seen an increasing population of homeless families, as the price of housing continues to rise.

For more than 25 years we have run four emergency shelters for homeless families on the Cape. They don’t get the same attention that our NOAH shelter did, perhaps because most people do not know they exist.

One of the shelters is behind a white picket fence on a main road in Hyannis. Another is a former motel in Bourne and a third is in a grand shingle-style historic home in Falmouth. The fourth, our Scattered Site program, consists of apartments for families in four buildings in Hyannis and Yarmouth.

Although we have turned over our NOAH shelter in Hyannis to Catholic Social Services, we still work with the homeless in our family shelters, which last year housed 174 families, including 195 kids.

We also are continuing to work with homeless individuals through our Outreach Program in which our workers go into the woods and other gathering places to try to bring homeless individuals to services and to get them situated in permanent housing. We also work with chronically homeless individuals through our case managers, who work with recently housed individuals to ensure they stay housed and don’t end up back on the street.

Preventing Homelessness on Cape Cod

Preventing homelessness is also the focus of our Project Prevention program for individuals and families. When there is a crisis such as a major car repair, health emergency, job layoff or other unforeseen event, we step in to help out financially by paying rent, a mortgage payment, a utility bill or other expenses to make sure that individual or family does not lose their home. It turns out that type of assistance also saves taxpayer dollars, because the cost to shelter people is much more expensive than the cost to keep people in their homes.

What is the best way to deal with homelessness—putting individuals and families in a shelter or finding a more permanent solution? Of course, one is short term and one is long term, but we try our best to focus on both. When all else fails, shelter is the solution and then we work to address the individual’s or family’s problems and get them into a good housing situation.

While we will always help homeless individuals and families on Cape Cod with emergency needs, we are also stepping up our efforts to create more affordable housing, because getting people into long-term housing is the ultimate goal. To accomplish that, it is sometimes necessary for families to move into the safe haven of a shelter while they participate in programming to help them get back into permanent housing and to find ways to secure an adequate income and become more self-sufficient. 

Help End Homelessness

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, homelessness, homelessness prevention, HAC, Rick Presbrey, NOAH Shelter

Editorial: Day One

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 @ 03:06 PM

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It is Monday morning and the office next to mine is empty. Looking in, there are lots of reminders of previous occupancy. A yellow pad with familiar handwriting. Family pictures not yet removed. Paint rubbed off the wall from the desk chair hitting it as the occupant moved around. The echo of my words, “Hey, Michael” still hangs in the air from my many calls to him for help in solving a problem or for his memory of past events. But he will be in to finish cleaning out his office. Something to look forward to.

After 35 years at HAC, Michael Sweeney retired on Friday. He was the Chief Operating Officer. He was good at a long list of things that I am not good at. And he was always here getting it done.

Can we go on without him? I know we can. People have left before. But it won’t be the same. How do you fill the void of decades of working together with less than five minutes total of even mildly angry words? How do you fill the space inside you that completely trusts someone and depends on that person to be here in all situations? How do you replace the emptiness inside where the steadiness and dependability of a human relationship used to be?

At his retirement party Friday night my wife reported that when talking about Michael, I said that he wasn’t really a friend. I don’t remember saying that but if I did say it I know why. For me a friend is someone you hang around with for the fun and camaraderie you receive from that friendship. In Michael’s case we shared some of that. But 99% of our relationship was about our work at HAC. Yes, we shared social time, sometimes during working hours and sometimes on weekends, but Michael was not central in our social circle and we weren’t part of his. With Michael we worked together every day. We solved problems together every day. We sat in each other’s office every day. We passed in the halls every day. We went to the dump together every Saturday and talked about work most of the time and family some of the time. We spent a lot more hours together than I ever have spent with a “friend.”

There must be another word that describes our relationship. People who serve in the military, particularly in battles, refer to those they were closest to and who they experienced difficult times with as their “buddies.” I have never understood that term, but maybe it applies to Michael and me.We certainly qualify as buddies. The buddy bond will always be there. That comforts me. But I miss his presence now.

You can read more about Michael Sweeney's 35-year career at HAC and his contributions to those we serve by clicking this link.

Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey, affordable housing, Michael Sweeney

Editorial: A Lot to Be Proud of with NOAH Shelter

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Oct 07, 2016 @ 03:47 PM

rick_at_big_fix.jpgThirty-two years ago, a representative from a committee within the Town of Barnstable came to my office to ask if HAC would agree to open a shelter in Hyannis for homeless individuals. I remember the moment well. I didn’t want to do it. I asked if other organizations could do it and I was told that the most likely one had refused.

I thought about our mission to help people obtain decent housing and how this was “off mission” and would be a distraction. But my sense that someone needed to do it won out. At that moment and ever since, I have felt a “moral imperative” (a phrase coined by one of our Board members) to provide a safe haven for the neediest of our brothers and sisters.

I feel great pride in what we have been able to accomplish. For 32 years, 365 nights per year, we have provided a safe place for people to sleep, take a shower, and receive two nutritious meals a day. In the worst of weather we have kept people alive.

Thousands of volunteers from all across the Cape have helped in dozens of ways. An evening meal has been prepared by volunteers almost every night, serving more than a half a million meals over more than three decades.

We have put three additions on the building where our offices had previously been in order to improve our ability to provide a variety of services. We have made it possible for men and women to be entirely separate, including separate entrances.

In recent times, we opened a day center, keeping the facility open 24 hours a day rather than only at night. We have placed approximately 3,000 of our guests in permanent housing as well as many in part- or full-time jobs.

Perhaps most important of all, we have engaged everyone who was willing in discussions on how to improve their lives by addressing their biggest problems. Thanks to a great staff and leadership and the tireless work of a half dozen committed people in the community, NOAH is the best it has ever been, which is very satisfying for me and I hope for all those who work and volunteer at NOAH.

Locally, we have absorbed lots of criticism, but we have kept the faith and kept on working, doing our best to provide a safe, stable and decent emergency shelter.

But change is always inevitable. About six months ago another agency came forward and expressed interest in taking over the operation of NOAH. The organization operates other shelters and has a fantastic track record in raising money. They are convincing in their belief that they can do the job well. The HAC Board has encouraged me to consider this option of turning over the day-to-day running of the shelter.

The arguments for making the change are that the operation of the NOAH Shelter, and raising the money we need to stay open, takes an inordinate amount of time of many who work at HAC, including myself, and that if we were to give up the day-to-day operation we could develop and raise money for a more comprehensive approach to getting many more homeless individuals in to housing, which is central to our mission. There is a decision to be made. For me it has been a difficult one, especially since it is likely I will retire within the next 18 months and I want to hand off as doable a job as I can to my successor.

By the time you read this our Board will have made this decision. My recommendation will be to move ahead with the transfer. I am at peace with my recommendation because, if this change goes forward, we can do more to house homeless individuals and we will be leaving this work in good hands. Thirty-two years is a long time. I think we have a lot to be proud of.

Read more about the NOAH Shelter decision by clicking this link.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, homelessness, Rick Presbrey, NOAH Shelter, Catholic Social Services

What Drives Homeless Rates? It's Not What You Think

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Wed, Sep 14, 2016 @ 10:06 AM

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An August 25 article in the Boston Globe made the case that housing costs, not poverty, drive up the rates of homelessness. The article analyzed homelessness rates nationwide and discovered that homelessness is most prevalent in states where housing costs are highest. New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii and California are examples of states with the highest rates of homelessness, with Hawaii first and New York second. The states with the lowest homeless population rates are Mississippi and Alabama. Interestingly, the article makes the point that Massachusetts does the best job of providing housing and/or shelter for homeless families, but does not do as well for individuals.

The article doesn’t talk about incomes, but it is obvious they are higher in the states with the highest rates of homelessness. This usually results in those states spending the most to deal with the problem. The article cites the three main reasons for homelessness as a sudden life crisis, a breakdown in social support from friends and family, and a lack of housing at the bottom end of the market.

After reading the article it is hard not to see Cape Cod as having the perfect storm for homelessness: high housing costs, low wages, high rates of addiction, and an extreme lack of available housing at the low end of the market. While there has been a big state response to homelessness here on the Cape, we have made the problem even more difficult to solve because of the following: few areas zoned for multi-family rental housing, large lot zoning, lack of public wastewater infrastructure, development patterns that make public transportation difficult, and limited opportunities for good paying jobs. At the same time, state resources have been targeted primarily towards families as opposed to individuals.

Generous state resources were made available to the Cape in the 1980s when we had the highest rate of family homelessness in Massachusetts. Thousands of families were housed and since then, as resources have shrunk, hundreds of families have moved, and been helped to move, to areas of Southeastern Massachusetts where rental housing is more plentiful and less expensive, and where there are more available jobs.

What remains, especially in the urbanized area of the Mid-Cape, is a relatively large number of homeless individuals. State resources are increasing to help with the problem, and social and municipal leaders are working hard to find resources and to employ the best approaches to helping people secure housing and services they may need.

Help End Homelessness

Tags: homelessness, HAC

Summer on Cape Cod

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 @ 10:13 AM

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I am not taking any travelling vacation this summer. Work is especially busy because we are trying to fill three key positions: the Director of Energy Programs; the Director of Homeless Prevention Services; and the Director of Housing Development. We also have a new COO, Walter Phinney, who started two weeks ago. The result is that I am trying to take just an occasional vacation day—staying local—this summer. That’s how I ended up as a day tripper on Martha’s Vineyard on a recent Monday.

I’ve never spent time on the Vineyard as a tourist, but I’ve been there on business over the years. I’ve have always planned my trips for the early morning hours so that I can be back at my desk by noon.

HAC has built affordable housing on the Vineyard. Back in the early 1980s, HAC partnered with Island Elderly Housing on a Martha’s Vineyard development called Hillside Village, which had 40 rental units for seniors. It is the only multi-family project HAC has been involved with. HAC also built 15 homeownership units on the Vineyard as part of a Self-Help Ownership project.

Last fall, HAC opened our first “office” on the Vineyard. Our part-time staffers share space in the Dukes County office building. They provide much-needed assistance to Vineyarders looking for affordable housing. I know the Vineyard to be a place where the challenge of affordable housing is even greater than it is on the Cape, not least because of the staggering price of real estate.

Last month, my wife Melanie, my son Paul and I, with another couple, took the day and went to the Vineyard as tourists. We rented a Jeep and proceeded, after a quick breakfast in Oak Bluffs, to begin to drive the perimeter of the island. We headed to Edgartown and following our noses and signs, headed to the Chappaquiddick ferry. For $28 round-trip, the five of us and our car rolled on to the three-car-ferry for the three-minute ride across. We satisfied our curiosities about the Ted affair and followed signs to the Mytoi Japanese gardens a few minutes away. The 45-minute walk through the gardens was fascinating and pleasingly invigorating.

Our next stop, a fair drive away, was something I have wanted to see for many years, the cliffs at Aquinnah. Our group was hungry by now, but there wasn’t much on the drive and the trinket shops at the site didn’t offer much hope. We walked up the short hill and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the cliffs and the Native American story that went with it. Part way back to the car I checked the snack bar only to find that it was a full-fledged restaurant with outside seating overlooking the beach far below and the ocean. We all enjoyed our lunch and marveled at our location with the “best view in the world!”

After lunch we headed back to the ferry, enjoying the rural country and farm views. We took the 5 pm boat back to Falmouth, a very thrilled, happy and tired fivesome. And I got to see a side of the Vineyard I had never seen before.

Tags: Martha's Vineyard, Rick Presbrey, affordable housing

Editorial: Learning To Do Things I Never Thought Possible

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 @ 11:40 AM

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This will be the first time I have written my column while on vacation. The result is that this column may be a departure from my usual. It takes me about five days to change my thinking patterns away from work issues to whatever the time off involves. In this case I have traveled to rural Virginia to visit my lifelong best friend Paul with my wife, Melanie, and our just-home-from-college son, Paul. My son Paul is named after my best friend Paul.

My friend Paul (MFP) grew up in Massachusetts with three sisters, a mother who raised horses, and a father who traveled all over the world as an international diplomat and advisor to several Presidents. MFP was a great student and an Olympic athlete and an introvert—all very different than me. Our friendship is based on each of us admiring the other for our differences, our loyalty to each other, and our lifelong passion for cars, mostly European cars. MFP began his career as a college professor but before long became a part-time professor and full-time car hobbyist. His days have been spent for years not buying and selling cars, although he occasionally did that with great success, but restoring carefully chosen cars he had found for his permanent collection. Typically, the cars he now owns are worth ten times what he paid for them, but none are for sale.  He is an expert, needless to say, and he can do all the restoration work himself.

One of the purposes of our trip does involve a car. About five years ago MFP bought a pile of rusted and dusty parts of a race car built by an aircraft engineer in St. Louis in 1959. He bought it so he could recreate it while working with his namesake, my son Paul (MSP). Each year MSP spends about a week in Virginia. He is learning while fabricating, restoring and assembling this car. MFP and MSP have become fast friends. For the past week, I have been part of the rebuilding team and I have learned to do things I never thought possible.

The second extra special part of this vacation is that one of MFP’s sisters, Diana, who is three years my senior and who I have not seen for 45 years scheduled a visit from Seattle with one of her grandsons, who is 15. He has also been part of the magic of race car restoration and learning to do things you never thought you could do.

For me, seeing Diana was a tearful reunion. I felt a spark of renewal of a lifelong friendship that was only a seedling when we last met. Each night our little group of seven met and exchanged life stories which often involved things we had shared as youths, but had experiences in very different ways. Longtime friendships are important to me.

It was a terrific vacation and next year we are going to do it again. But now back to work, having learned some life lessons that apply well to my HAC family and many longtime and budding friendships where we often accomplish things that we may not have thought possible.

Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: Embarking on a New Era

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Wed, May 18, 2016 @ 10:02 AM

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A couple of months ago we began the search for a new Chief Operating Officer (COO). Our very capable COO Michael Sweeney will be retiring in the fall, unless I can talk him into staying longer. We advertised in thirteen places with social media being eleven of the thirteen. Our expensive ad in the Boston Globe produced nothing while social media brought us a pool of incredibly talented people. The abundance of talent, much of it local, surprised me and made me feel pretty good that so many people are interested in working at HAC.

The COO position, in simplest terms, supervises all the division directors except finance leaving the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), me, to concentrate on internal and external policy issues, external relations, Board relations, raising money and developing new programs. We don’t do it exactly that way now, but we will when the retirements of our three most senior people take place.

For me the process is scary because the future of the agency, which I founded more than 40 years ago, depends on our making good choices. The core qualities that I look for in employees are integrity, commitment, and intelligence. In considering each candidate we try to determine their strengths in these three areas and are less concerned about their specific experience in the job for which they are applying. I believe that if a candidate possesses these three qualities they will figure out how to get the job done well, since this is a management job not a technical one. Of course there are other attributes we look for as well, such as confidence, writing and speaking skills, sense of humor, compassion, and so forth.

Another surprise is that we are finding people who seem to fit other positions within the agency as well. An unexpected hard part is choosing the top candidate among several who could do the job well. Throughout the process of looking for a COO, the fit within the agency, the compatibility with me, and the compatibility with an as-yet-unknown new CEO have all been concerns.

After filling the COO position, the search for a new CEO will begin. On all of our minds is the fact that 80% of the time after a founder leaves, the selection of a new CEO doesn’t work out well. We are doing all we can to make sure we end up in the successful 20% where the transition works out well.

Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey, succession planning

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: A Moral Imperative

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 @ 04:59 PM

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There are about 400 people each year who spend one or more nights at the NOAH Shelter. On an average night there are about 50 people staying in the facility. My guess, and it is only a guess, on an average night, and it does vary by season, there are about 35 people sleeping outside in the Hyannis vicinity.

For about the past 18 months, I have been meeting at least every other week as a part of a group (click here for more info) seeking to move the facility out of downtown Hyannis. The group has come together around a mission to provide expanded and improved wrap-around services for clients and to reduce the negative effect of homelessness on Hyannis businesses. Excellent progress has already been made by opening the facility during the day and developing policies and procedures which improve the quality, quantity and consistency of services. In addition, plans have been made for improved operations within the new facility.

For the past several months, the committee has been researching possible sites for the new facility mostly in the greater Hyannis area. Hyannis is the preferred area because it is the only place on the Cape where all services are within walking distance. In addition, successful permitting for the new location is more likely in the Town of Barnstable because the town wants the facility to move out of the center of the downtown area. One roadblock after another has hindered the effort, including federal regulations for any future funding requiring that the facility not be within 2,500 feet of airport property. Our search guidelines have eliminated all sites near schools and sites in or abutting a residential neighborhood. Recently, objections to at least one site that the committee has agreed on have come from town hall. There are still a couple of sites in play, but no likely site has yet been found.

The search for money to fund the purchase and construction costs is also underway. Eventually, we believe that funding will come from some combination of public and private sources.

This is and has been a very difficult process. What makes me think it might succeed is the high level of commitment of the committee members. What will stop the project is objections from those who want to see it fail because they either insist that the facility be out of town or that the shelter close its doors altogether. Up until now the HAC board has taken the position that providing this sanctuary for the neediest of our citizens is a “moral imperative.”

If our efforts are successful, services will be dramatically increased, including outreach, and the negative effect on Hyannis will be greatly reduced. I am sure of it.

Tags: homelessness, NOAH Shelter, The Transitional Living Center

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: Tax Credits a Tool to Create Affordable Housing

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @ 12:15 PM

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Recently on the editorial page of the Cape Cod Times was a letter from an Eastham resident opposing the proposed affordable housing development on the site of that town’s old driving range. I am concerned about the writer’s misunderstanding of the purpose of the housing sought for that site. The writer says, “There is something abhorrent about concentrating housing for needy people in one spot, anywhere. In cities it’s economic to create a ghetto of struggle and failure.”

I haven’t heard such strong and over-the-top language used to describe affordable housing for a long time. One wonders if the present presidential campaign has given renewed license to publicly express such attitudes. Of course, the writer does not understand who would really populate this development, but still “abhor” is a pretty strong word. Who exactly is he picturing will live there? And even the word “ghetto” hardly describes the plan that has been presented.

The proposed “affordable housing” that the developer wants to build in Eastham uses “tax credits” through the IRS which are sold to institutional investors to create equity in the project which reduces the amount of the debt on the property. The tax credits allow the rent, and this would be a rental development, to be somewhat below market in price, usually about $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. This “tax credit” program was an initiative started under President Reagan’s administration. Market price on the Cape for a decent two-bedroom apartment currently is between $1,200 and $1,500 a month. People who would most often rent the one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments would be seniors, couples with or without children, and singles. To be able to afford $1,000 a month plus utilities most will need to be employed.

The reason that there is a severe shortage of rental housing on the Cape is that there is no return on investment for the developer because the cost of development requires rents that are too high for people to afford. A totally privately funded rental development might have to charge $3,000 a month in rent, hardly affordable for those needing rental housing on Cape Cod.

I don’t agree with the writer that providing desperately needed housing for young working couples, singles and seniors is “abhorrent” or even would create a concentration of “needy” people. If our present economic system provided housing that met market needs, or if jobs on the Cape paid more, or if zoning more often allowed multifamily rental housing, then tax credits wouldn’t be needed.

And since our present economic system doesn’t provide decent, safe and affordable housing, which we all need to thrive, then reasonable, well-informed and thoughtful people will figure out a way to support efforts that are appropriate to their town. And in my experience many people do.