On Wednesday, June 1, the H.O.M.E. Group (Housing Options for Momentum and Equity) held its inaugural meeting at Keith Middle School to have a robust discussion on the housing issues facing New Bedford residents.

The H.O.M.E. Group is a community planning group established to improve and execute policies that will meet New Bedford's biggest housing challenges.

The group was co-founded by Carl Alves, President of Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction (PAACA), and New Bedford City Councilor at Large Shane Burgo, with the goal of bringing together established leaders in Greater New Bedford in housing and policy.

Marcus Ferro/Townsquare Media
Marcus Ferro/Townsquare Media
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Others in attendance were district representatives from the office of Congressman Bill Keating, representatives from the office State Representative Tony Cabral, State Rep. Chris Hendricks, New Bedford City Councilors Ryan Pereira of Ward 6 and Scott Lima of Ward 5, city officials, and representatives from community organizations.

"There's a lot of movement out there, which is terrific," Alves said at the outset of the meeting. "But if we're going to look to the future, we need to come together and identify some of the challenges as well as the opportunities."

Marcus Ferro/Townsquare Media
Marcus Ferro/Townsquare Media

The meeting began with opening remarks by Burgo and Alves, then Alves outlined the purpose of the H.O.M.E. Group and revealed a series of shocking statistics regarding the city's housing.

For example: there are currently 1,021 active students who are homeless in the New Bedford Public School system, and an individual typically needs to earn approximately $76,000 to afford market rate housing in the city, which is well above the household income of most residents in the city.

Marcus Ferro/Townsquare Media
Marcus Ferro/Townsquare Media

Alves then opened the discussion to the group to identify what they saw as some of the most prevalent issues facing New Bedford with respect to housing. Issues brought up for discussion included the abundance of vacant homes, outside investors vs. locally based investors, using the right messaging to combat "NIMBY" ("not in my backyard") attitudes, and New Bedford's critically low supply of available housing.

An individual at the meeting had shared a personal experience of their son recently overdosing, which they said made them particularly aware of the need for behavioral housing such as halfway houses and the need to de-stigmatize them.

Paul Chasse, CEO of the Realtor Association of Southeastern Massachusetts, said that the group should look to expand beyond the city and look at options in surrounding towns to meet the growing demand for housing. Many at the meeting agreed inviting individuals representing surrounding communities was important for the next meeting.

City Councilor Ryan Pereira, in a moment of candor, placed much of the blame for New Bedford's housing on what he sees as an unwelcomeness and inefficiency on behalf of the local government.

"I can't stress that enough that the single biggest issue in my opinion with the lack of housing is city government," Pereira said. "One of the biggest restricting factors is the building department. It's the collaboration between departments. When we have a department denying projects because you need this department to be on board or that department to be board, we need to streamline that and we need to figure out how we can come up with a process where a developer can come to one single group of city officials and check everything off in one shot."

Councilor Burgo recently told WBSM that he intends for the H.O.M.E. Group to foster policy ideas that can be brought to the City Council Committee on Affordable Housing and Homeless Affairs, of which he serves as chairperson, so that the City can legislate housing solutions that are within their purview.

The H.O.M.E. Group will meet again at a time and place to be determined. Meetings are open to the public and participation is encouraged. Questions or comments can be directed to Councilor Burgo at Shane.Burgo@newbedford-ma.gov or Carl Alves at calves@PAACA.org.

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