Proposed Developer for Zelma Lacey just Starting Conversations

The new affordable housing developer proposed for the Zelma Lacey reconfiguration said this week that they intend to move slowly and carefully coordinate third-party services with existing residents of the Zelma as they embark on a long process.

Michael Mattos, executive director of Affordable Housing Services Collaborative (AHSC), said they are excited to partner with Peabody Resident Services to bring the new project to bear over the next two years – going from a licensed assisted living property to a 48-unit 100 percent affordable senior housing model.

“Zelma is a distressed asset,” he said. “The whole economic model didn’t work for the current owner and wouldn’t work for any ownership there. We want to come in and repurpose the model to make it sustainable economically. Our new goal as to the services side is not to let services slip through the cracks. We don’t want to flip the light switch tomorrow and it begins. We’re talking 12 to 18 months. This is a long conversation. It had to start somewhere. We started conversations a couple of weeks ago with residents and families.

“We are only in early conversations here,” he continued. “You don’t have to do anything now. You don’t have to move now. It sounds scary but we will work with everyone to keep them informed.”

He said beginning that conversation has been scary for a lot of folks, but they have started the process very early to make sure people are re-assured that they can stay and have personalized services – yet live in an updated unit with a kitchen that functions independently. He said Peabody Resident Services would coordinate caregivers and provider services while AHSC would be the owner and developer of the property.

“The way I am approaching this is right now is the services wouldn’t be different for residents, but it’s that they would be delivered differently,” he said. “The current services would be provided by staff at the facility until the transition occurs. Between now and then there will be lots of meetings as a group and individually with families to come up with a plan for each household and family and develop a personal plan for services.”

Mattos said there are 66 units in Zelma, but only 42 are now occupied. To reconfigure the units to be rehabilitated and to add kitchens to each, that would push the unit count down to 48 units (nine studios, 38 one-bedrooms and one two-bedroom). Another major change is that the rents won’t be jacked up as is the rumor, but in fact the property will become more affordable, he said. Right now the Zelma is 50 percent affordable and 50 percent market rate. The new configuration would be 100 percent affordable and affordability would be in three tiers – including 30 percent of AMI, 50 percent of AMI and 60 percent of AMI.

Mattos said the owners of Zelma have historically had trouble filling the market rate units and that has led to some of the shortfalls financially. That would all change, he said, under the new plan.

“The only time they were 100 percent full was 18 months after they opened,” he said. “They have really never been fully occupied and have struggled to fill market units. It’s been a challenge over the years to fill those market units. We’re excited to expand that affordability and that it will be in three different tiers.”

AHSC is a non-profit, affordable housing developer that has been around for 20 years and has had a long, strategic partnership with Peabody Properties, Mattos said.

“Ed Fish, who was the Zelma developer, was the one that sort of helped seed AHSC to get started in the early days,” he said. “There’s no legal affiliation, but there’s been a strategic partnership for a long time.”

The specialize in developing affordable housing for elders, youth, families and tend to include wrap around services in those developments with providers. Most of those services at their other developments have been coordinated by Peabody Resident Services, much like what is proposed for the reconfigured Zelma.

Finally, Mattos said if any family feels the new configuration is not for them, he said they will go above and beyond to help them find the right situation. “If anyone feels it’s not right for their mom or dad and they want an assisted living somewhere else and not third-party providers, we will help them with the cost and relocation of that once we get there,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”

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