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Mass. housing secretary Ed Augustus visits Devenscrest Tuesday

Mass. housing secretary Ed Augustus visits Devenscrest Tuesday

Tenants have audience with MA Housing Secretary Ed Augustus

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Mass. housing secretary Ed Augustus visits Devenscrest Tuesday (sentinelandenterprise.com).

AYER — State Housing Secretary Ed Augustus visited with the embattled tenants of Devenscrest on Tuesday morning to both listen to their concerns and communicate how the state could support them.

Devenscrest is a 110-unit apartment complex of duplex and triplex homes located in an enclave of quiet, interwoven streets off Littleton Road. It had been an affordable choice of two- and three-bedroom apartments for low- and moderate-income tenants for many years before being purchased roughly two years ago by real estate investment company Brady Sullivan.

After the purchase, Brady Sullivan ended up renovating units, which increased rents and resulted in numerous evictions – something many current and former Devenscrest tenants feel never should have happened.

Augustus met with Devenscrest Association members to “talk about efforts to save their housing from real estate speculators,” according to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), a group helping out the Devenscrest Tenants Association.

“The tenants who want to remain in their homes are deeply grateful” to state officials “for extending a helping hand,” said attorney Ann Jochnick, of MRLI. Jochnick said Devenscrest is a “perfect example of why affordable homes in Massachusetts are disappearing, and why we need Governor Healey’s Housing Bond Bill to protect homes like this and the families who live there.”

The announcement of Augustus’ visit drew quite a crowd, including multiple newspaper and TV outlets who waited outside the private meeting between the Augustus and the Devenscrest Association members. Also, taking part in the meeting was state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, state Rep. Dan Sena as well as other city and town officials such as Ayer Town Manager Robert Pontbriand.

Richard Henken, of New England real estate company Schochet, had proposed a plan aimed at finding a firm that would buy and manage Devenscrest but keep the rents affordable. Henken offered to buy the complex from Brady Sullivan Properties. “I spoke with Brady [Sullivan Properties] … but he wasn’t interested,” Henken said.

Jochnick said MRLI aims to keep trying to come up with a price that Brady Sullivan finds acceptable. It could be a win/win for both parties, in her view. Also for the developer, who could “make a profit and do the right thing at the same time.” she said.

D-Amber Houle, who is a preschool teacher who lives at Devenscrest with her four-year-old son and has been a tenant since 2009, certainly hopes it works out that way. Her little boy is autistic so stability is important, she said, and she doesn’t know where they would go if they have to move out.

Asked what went on in the closed door session with Augustus, she said he briefed them on what the state can do to support the tenants at Devenscrest, including doing what they can to encourage proposals like the one that was rebuffed. He agreed, she said, that there’s a critical need for affordable housing.

“We have to find a way…” she said.

Eviction notices served on a few of Devenscrest’s remaining emeritus tenants made it to housing court in Lowell recently and Brady Sullivan eventually withdrew those cases, Houle said, but didn’t know why.

She said it’s clear the company “wants us out,” noting, as did others, that ongoing work has been disruptive, even dangerous. Banging on thin walls that separate apartments; trees cut down, construction debris. “Kids can’t play in their yards anymore,” she said. “It wasn’t like this before.”

Houle said she and the other tenants have tried to be “humorous,” amid the disruption. But it’s tough. “We have a right to live peacefully,” she said.

The neighborhood isn’t like it used to be, Houle said, and she hasn’t had much contact with new tenants, who pay higher monthly rents,  she said, at about $2,200 to $2,500 for two or three bedroom apartments. But that’s more than Houle can afford.

Asked if there’s a legal way Houle and other tenants who haven’t moved out can stay put, without being subject to rent hikes they can’t afford, Allie Girouard, media consultant with MLRI, said the state’s housing bill may help, although it’s not specific to Devenscrest.  As for here and now, it’s a housing court issue, she said.

That’s why Houle and the other association members have decided to speak out again, she said. “We’re fighting, and we won’t give up,” she said.

Devenscrest was built to temporarily house military families from the nearby Fort Devens Army base, which closed in 1996. A private party later purchased the property and Devenscrest became a permanent neighborhood before eventually being purchased two years ago by Brady Sullivan.

 

Original Article published on January 31, 2024 at Mass. housing secretary Ed Augustus visits Devenscrest Tuesday (sentinelandenterprise.com), by M.E. Jones.

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