Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Rick Presbrey

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Rick Presbrey's Editorial: A New Beginning

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 @ 04:33 PM


At the start of this fiscal year, which started last July for us, we decided to begin a new initiative to develop white papers on a variety of subjects related to housing and our clients on the Cape and Islands. This endeavor was launched as we contemplated our 40-plus-year history and the 40 years ahead. 

During the past four decades we have helped more than 160,000 people with a wide variety of services related to housing. HAC’s efforts have garnered results in many ways. We hope we have changed attitudes. We have helped create new organizations to accomplish our or related missions and we may have precipitated an environment that is a lot more friendly to the idea of public involvement in creating housing that is “affordable.”

The fundamental problem in our region, as I have said many times, consists of several components: 1) our seasonal demand drives up housing prices; 2) our service-based economy provides low-paying jobs; 3) the cost of building rental housing for year-round tenants is too high to provide a return on investment with the rents local people can afford to pay; 4) lack of multifamily zoning districts makes land appropriate to build multifamily rentals in short supply; 5) lack of public wastewater systems makes it difficult to build rental developments of a size that provides efficiencies of scale.

I appreciate that we, at HAC, have won many battles to provide decent housing for people, but we have lost the war so far in that housing problems are worse now than they were when we started in 1974. One result of this conclusion is that we have started to research and publish “white papers” to help add to the information we need as civic leaders and citizens to make the most informed decisions possible to improve the future availability of housing for an economically diverse population in our region.

We hope to publish four papers a year. Some of the topics under consideration now are:

  • The shortage of rental housing for young professionals, seniors and people with lower incomes. Presently, demand exceeds supply.
    A report card on how town-based Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds are being used.
  • The relationship between housing insecurity to children’s health, education, and the general well being and prospects for their future.
  • The relationship between trauma in early life and homelessness.
  • Regulatory barriers to providing housing for those on the autism spectrum.
    Housing Court for Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties: Do we need one and will it happen?
  • Reverse mortgages: the benefits and the pitfalls.

I hope you take the opportunity to read our future white papers on our website and email us your comments and suggestions for future subjects.


Tags: affordable housing

Rick Presbrey Editorial: A Cheer for CHAMP Homes

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 @ 02:09 PM


Now under the able leadership of Beth Wade, CHAMP Homes in Hyannis wants to create 23 (two people to a room) more housing units for formerly homeless individuals across the street from its main building. The town has not met its state required 10% affordable housing. There is a dramatic shortage of rental units on the Cape making competition for every decent and reasonably priced unit fierce. The town, particularly those residents and businesses in or near Hyannis, is clamoring for something to be done about the presence of homeless individuals.

CHAMP Homes, if you don’t know them, has been around for many years and has been singularly successful in providing housing and services for those individuals most in need. Paul and Carolyn Hebert, the now-retired founders, dedicated their lives to caring deeply for others and creating a fabulous program. I might call it miraculous. Recently, as part of the development process, CHAMP personnel went to town hall to discuss their plan and, as often happens, some people are vocally opposing the plan.

It isn’t as if CHAMP Homes and their tenants have created problems. They haven’t. It isn’t as if CHAMP isn’t filling a need. They are. It isn’t as if the town doesn’t need more affordable units. We do. It isn’t as if CHAMP is making a lot of money. They aren’t. It isn’t as if they are sneaking around. They aren’t. It isn’t as if CHAMP is seeking favors or hoping to skirt the law. They aren’t. CHAMP is doing what their mission says they should do and doing it well. In fact, I think it is a moral imperative that they do all they can to provide housing for as many people as possible.

What CHAMP doesn’t do is bring people with lots of money to Hyannis. That is not their job. But they are making a positive contribution to Hyannis. And, from the point of view of a person who has lived here for 41 years, Hyannis is thriving. Does anyone remember when the Mall was built and people worried that Hyannis would be a ghost town? Well, our award-winning city/village of Hyannis is thriving. Great restaurants, great stores, great public transportation services, great health care, a diverse population, a first-class recreation center, fantastic educational choices, and lots of exciting plans for the future.

CHAMP Homes unquestionably does God’s work. We should all realize how lucky we are to have CHAMP homes in our community. Think of all the things we need to be concerned about. Stopping the CHAMP Homes expansion is not one of them.

In case you are wondering, HAC has nothing to do with CHAMP Homes. Nobody at HAC is on the Board, we don’t have any contracts or agreements with CHAMP. We are just admirers of what they have accomplished. And, we are in a position to know.

Tags: homelessness

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: Looking for a Rental

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 @ 02:10 PM


I recently received a copy of a letter from an individual, whom I know, who after years of waiting received a rental assistance voucher from HAC. This was a godsend for him as he is disabled and cannot earn enough to afford all of the expenses of living including housing.

His letter enumerated his frustrations in finding a unit to rent with his voucher, which guarantees payment of each month’s rent. In his letter he told of finding dozens of units, which he saw over more than a six-month period, which were either of poor quality or with the property owner not willing to rent to him because of his voucher or for other reasons that they did not specify. What was different about his letter, than many others we have received, is the number of units he looked at and the fact that we know him as an intelligent and very presentable person.

Which brings me to my point: it is more difficult for our clients to find housing even when they have a voucher than it has ever been in our history. Bear in mind that a voucher has always been the solution in that it guarantees the property owner the rent which historically has been a very good thing in the minds of the thousands of landlords who have rented units to our clients.

The reason for the difficulty seems relatively clear. There are more people looking for units than there are rental units available. There are other theories as to why this is including that more landlords leave units vacant because they don’t need the income; there are more people with lower incomes than there used to be; there are more people looking for year round rentals than there used to be; there are more people for fewer units so landlords pick one out of twenty rather than one out of three thereby lowering the apparently less desirable tenants chances of getting the unit; there are fewer decent units than there used to be because of the aging of our housing stock; and that more landlords are refusing to rent to applicants who have a housing voucher.

At the new Village Green apartments in Hyannis, which recently rented up, the manager was for a time receiving over a hundred calls per day giving out more than 200 applications a week. To make matters worse, towns are making it impossible for people to live in motel rooms more than a short stay justifying their actions as concerns for public health. None of the towns banning living in motels have reached the state mandate that 10% of their housing stock be affordable. Clearly, kicking people out of a motel room with nowhere to go creates a more serious public health problem than living in the motel room in the first place.

The message to us at HAC is that we need to do more to educate those in need of affordable housing on subjects related to housing and income; we need to provide more help to people looking for places to rent; we need to provide case management to some after they have found and moved into a rental unit; and we need, and Cape Cod needs, to produce many more affordable rental units. We would like to do all of these things but the resources to accomplish any of them are in short supply.

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: Same Hopes and Dreams

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Mon, Nov 30, 2015 @ 06:30 PM


The all-too-common portrayal of homeless people in Hyannis as junkies and criminals is bothering me a lot. I have had enough. Demonizing people is contrary to what I believe and what HAC stands for.

The difference, it seems to me, is that people who are homeless make us uncomfortable. They are “different” from us and we don’t know why. Sometimes they remind us how lucky we are and how much we don’t want to be like them. It is easier to blame the person rather than try to understand the issues that led them there in the first place.

Not all homeless people are the same. But many are in their situation through mental illness, addiction, divorce, injury, poverty or a combination of those factors. They need and deserve our help.

The fact is that just the presence of the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis bothers some people. I suspect that when people drive by at about 4 in the afternoon and there is a line waiting to get into the facility some people find it repulsive and some are even afraid. 

I have met many homeless people in my lifetime, and we at HAC have helped lots of them. The fact is that they are people just like us. They have the same hopes and dreams that we all do, only they have often failed where you and I may have had better opportunities to succeed. We expect to be treated well wherever we go. If you are homeless, you never expect a warm smile and friendly treatment.

One of our long-time staff members believes that a very high percentage of the heads of households of homeless families in our shelters spent time while growing up in foster homes. Even more, up to 90%, were physically abused, sexually or otherwise, and a similar number have experienced drug or alcohol addiction. Most did not graduate from high school.

How many of us would be comfortably settled in our own homes now if we had those experiences as a part of our background growing up?  We need to remember that our own point of view is always different than the point of view of others. For example, a car speeds by us on the highway. Is it a bad driver or an emergency on the way to the hospital? We don’t know.

When we pass a person who appears homeless on the street in Hyannis, we don’t know either.     

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: The Thrill of Success

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 @ 10:24 AM

Having been at this for a long time you might think that I don’t get a thrill out of some of our accomplishments.

You would be wrong.

The thrill I get is directly related to how much fear I have during the years of planning that each project takes. For example, as we work to create a new and better shelter for individuals, I have lots of apprehension about finding a good location, getting the money, and developing an innovative program that responds to the needs of the client population. Once all that is achieved, I will be thrilled. Any time we tackle a difficult problem and achieve success it is very satisfying and thrilling.

One such achievement, many years ago, was the construction of 99 homes under our self-help housing program. That program operated from 1979 to 1984 and was responsible for building homes in 14 towns on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. HAC taught families in groups how to build their own homes with each group led by a construction supervisor. It was very difficult. People worked their spare hours for more than a year before the homes were completed.

Last week I ran into a woman, who I had no recollection of, and as I encountered her she enthusiastically called out my name saying, “Oh, you are Rick Presbrey,” as if I was a celebrity. (I hardly think of myself in that way these or any other days). She then explained that she and her husband had been part of a self-help group in Falmouth, which I had organized, and that they had built a home and were still living in it 30 years later! Her enthusiasm was very validating and, yes, thrilling.

One regret I have always had is that we never built any homes on Nantucket. But that is about to change! And that, for me, is a thrill! Not only have we created and currently operate a successful development program, building all affordable homes and apartments, many of which have encountered seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but now we have achieved the Holy Grail of our development profession and are achieving the impossible: 40 affordable for-purchase homes on the most expensive place in Massachusetts: Nantucket. Hooray for us!

Yes, there has been lots of fear of failure. A thousand meetings, dozens of crises, and many changes of plans. Houdini couldn’t have faced as many challenges as we did just getting the money to make the homes affordable.

What makes me especially satisfied, even though not a single house has been completed yet, was that last week we received the signed 15th purchase and sale agreement for the last house for phase one of the project. The bank and the Zoning Board of Appeals, skeptical (as we sometimes were) of our probability of success, required that we pre-sell all the houses prior to construction. No model homes to show, just roads and vacant lots and drawings to convince people to take a chance. We also weren’t sure that people would qualify, would have good enough credit, and have the needed down payment, but they did and it is happening. Foundations are in and the first families will move in on or about the first of the New Year!

Kudos to all who played important parts in this including many from Nantucket, our past and present staff at HAC and our champion consultant Kevin Maguire.

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: Who's Next?

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 @ 10:30 PM


Recently, the Barnstable Police Department compiled a list of 72 social service agencies in Hyannis. The list was compiled in the context of problems with homeless people in Hyannis and the reasons why Hyannis is the apparent destination for so many. It is a legitimate question.

Frequently, the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis has been credited with being the magnet that attracts people in need of shelter. The Barnstable Police department has also compiled a list of about 400 “homeless” people that they have encountered during the last fifteen months. The NOAH capacity is 55.

These numbers are presented in support of the concept that people come to Hyannis for, among other things, the many services that are offered here. The list does not carefully define how service organizations were chosen for the list or the purpose of the list. Everything from the NOAH Shelter to the Internal Revenue Service is listed, including some, but not all, churches, with some notable absences such as Town functions related to paying taxes, issuing licenses, beach permits, etc. which are services that also bring people to town.

What the list seeks to show, it seems, is that “undesirables” are attracted to town to avail themselves of services. In some ways, that is probably a correct assumption. Liquor stores bring both undesirable and desirable populations, but liquor stores are also available in each of the town’s seven villages.

A more relevant list might name only agencies that attract once defined “undesirable” individuals, such as the NOAH shelter, the AIDS Support Group, Duffy Health Center, Vinfen, Champ Homes, the Department of Mental Health, the Salvation Army, etc. and others. Groups on the list like Cape Cod Child Development, Angel House, Independence House and others might be excluded because they serve women and children. And veterans organizations might be excluded from the list too.

We wouldn’t want to have all the agencies listed leave Hyannis. For instance the hospital, the Transportation Center, the United Way, and the Council of Churches because of the important role they play in serving the population as a whole including “undesireables.” So how do we decide what agencies along with their employees, besides NOAH, should leave? Some agencies are in Hyannis, but not downtown. Can they stay? What about the rent that property owners will lose when organizations leave? Will that be an issue? Where will the agencies go? How about the charter schools in Hyannis? They weren’t listed but they don’t bring “undesireable” people to Hyannis, do they? Teachers and students. We like them. They don’t cause much trouble.

Who would decide who stays and who goes? Maybe we should just decide how many we want, say ten, and then have a lottery? But that wouldn’t work because we might lose some things that most people want. So let’s do it democratically: let’s list all the services that bring people to Hyannis and have a referendum. The top choices would get to stay. I come to Hyannis because I can find what I need here. I get my oil changed in Hyannis, for example.

In the end, we would be trying to decide which people we want in Hyannis and which we don’t. Town Councilor Paul Hebert once said to me: “If I become disabled with a head injury I may not be welcome in Hyannis anymore.” What we really want is for people to stop misbehaving in Hyannis and to meet the needs of all constituencies with as much tolerance and understanding as possible.

I have to confess that I love Hyannis. I bring friends here. I lived in Hyannis for 17 years. Three of my four kids went to school in Hyannis, I went to church (in one of the churches on the list) in Hyannis for many years. I shop, stroll, and eat in Hyannis frequently and I occasionally see someone who appears to be down on their luck in Hyannis as well. Not a NOAH guest usually, as they are required to be in for the night by 5 p.m. I like the diversity in Hyannis, but at the same time I recognize the paramount need for our village to be a safe place for everyone.

We at HAC will do everything we can to help accomplish that outcome: a safe and attractive place for everyone. The questions and the answers are at the very best, many and complicated. We can only answer them as a community in dialogue together.