ZBA approves 48 units of affordable senior housing at Zelma Lacy House

The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) on Tuesday approved the renovation of the Zelma Lacey House from 66 assisted living units to 48 units of income-restricted units for seniors.

Attorney Kevin Joyce said that the Zelma Lacey House is “on the verge of foreclosure,” and that 70 percent of the 66 existing assisted living units are currently vacant.

He said that services will still be provided to residents of the apartments by “third party providers overseen by the management of the property.”

ZBA Chair Christine Araujo asked what would happen should a resident need more assistance than this building would provide. “Does the proponent have a next step place for them?” she asked.

Joyce said that if a resident needs further assistance, then they will receive help being placed elsewhere and relocation costs would be paid for the resident.

John Romano from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services said that this project has gone through an “extensive community process,” and that the Mayor’s Office is in support. He also said that a letter from the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency in support of the project has been received, as well as that the Mayor’s Office is aware “that the business had some financial concerns and constraints” that they hope will be resolved by this project.

Councilor Lydia Edwards said in a written statement she does not support the change of use, but she cannot oppose it and watch the facility close altogether.

“Given the community outreach and the need for assisted living, the Councilor cannot support this proposal, however, given the financial constraints that Mr. Joyce mentioned, and the financial reality that the Zelma Lacey House faces, she can’t oppose this, either,” said Ricardo Patrón, chief of staff for Lydia Edwards. “We would like to see as many of the current residents remain at the location as possible and for the developer to commit to working toward making that a reality. We’d also like to see that decision to be led by the current residents, their family, and their doctors, and not by the development team.”

Prior to the meeting, Edwards told the newspaper she wanted protections for those that wished to stay in the facility, and for those that are moving during construction.

“The City, state and federal government, to an extent, have let us down in providing the resources to run and maintain an assisted living facility,” she said. “I am asking the developer to make a firm commitment that no one would leave without a careful decision and that decision would be between them, their doctor and the family only. This is the fight to bring our elderly home. I want everyone who has to leave to know they always have a home in Charlestown. I am very aware how painful this is for many people.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said the financial model of an assisted living home is no longer viable. He said he will work for a seamless transition to the new model for the existing residents.

“This week’s ZBA approval is a significant step in the transformation of Zelma Lacey House to 100 percent affordable elderly housing,” he said. “Although originally visioned as a mixed-income assisted living facility; that business model never quite lived up to financial expectations. The goal of providing affordable housing with services, for Charlestown residents in their golden years, is still obtainable under a different model. I will continue to work with the proponents, government agencies and most importantly the residents to assure as seamless a transition as possible.” 

Councilor Michael Flaherty’s office was in support, but said that they are “echoing the sentiments of Councilor Edwards’ office.”

The ZBA voted to approve the proposal with BPDA design review, and urged the developer to consider current residents and ways to keep them in the building.

Seth Daniel contributed to this story.

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