Debate About The Helm on Third Rages On

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

On Thursday, April 13, over 250 people gathered at the Knights of Columbus for a public meeting regarding the development of The Helm on Third – a permanent supportive and affordable housing project at the site of the old Constitution Inn.

The discourse surrounding this project has been running rampant since at least last October, when the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) held a public meeting where the proponents laid out the plans for the project.

City Councilor At-Large Erin Murphy addresses the crowd.

Since October’s meeting, the proponents of this project, including The St. Francis House, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs (POUA), Maloney Properties, and the YMCA, have updated the plans.

Currently, the project is slated to create 120 units – 64 of which would be permanent supportive housing studio units for the formerly homeless – a 33% reduction from the initial plans. These 64 units would be split in half, 32 for formerly homeless veterans and 32 for formerly homeless women.

Furthermore, there would be 32 permanent affordable housing studio units – 16 for those moving from recovery programs and another 16 who have shown successful tenancies for at least 18 months.

Finally, the 24 remaining units would be income-restricted, with 16 one-bedrooms and eight two-bedrooms.

As part of the proposal, there will be full-time residential service staffing, full-time dedicated VA services, 24/7 on-site security, two full-time property managers, and more.

Since the plans were first revealed to Charlestown residents, there have been significant concerns with the project. An entire website – – has been dedicated to the project, outlining residents’ concerns.

One reason this proposal has left a sour taste in residents’ mouths and even created flat-out opposition is a lack of trust in the proponents. This distrust stems from a feeling of subpar community engagement voiced during last October’s meeting and initial plans from the proponents to waive the Article 80 process – a move they have since backed down from.

Bill Grogan, President of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs (POUA), acknowledged that the introduction of the project to the community had created a lack of trust – something he took responsibility for.

“While it was never our intent to proceed without community input, we certainly understand how that was viewed by many of you, and I apologize for that,” said Grogan.

Moreover, a sense of opposition to this project has also spawned due to concerns about the proposal. Last Thursday’s meeting set out to address concerns and answer many residents’ questions about the project.

One of the main concerns residents had regarded safety. Especially considering that a portion of the project’s potential tenants includes those who could be dealing with active mental illness and addiction – some of whom could have criminal records.

“It’s [the proposal] not something that I would be comfortable with – having a child in one of the four daycares or elderly grandparents or parents living in one of the many elderly buildings there. They’re two of the most vulnerable populations – they’re on their own, they have nobody with them, they try to manage as best they can, and I get afraid for them,” said one resident.

Another resident said, “We have grave concerns about safety and security in this community of all of Charlestown,” and asked about CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) checks to learn more about who would be able to live at this potential development.

In response, Kathy Luce, the Vice President and Principal of Maloney Properties, said, “We do a national search as well as the state CORI search, and again, we review someone’s history. If somebody has a misdemeanor, likely they wouldn’t be rejected.”

“If somebody has a very serious violent past, they likely would be rejected,” she added – which caused a stir due to the word choice of likely.

Luce expanded on this subject, explaining that each potential resident would have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis to comply with fair housing law.

Another resident voicing her safety concerns asked if a level one sex offender might be able to have residence at the Helm – the response from Karen LaFrazia, St. Francis House’s CEO and President, “Anything’s possible.”

However, Luce clarified LaFrazia’s response saying, “No one has information on level one sex offenders – they could be living anywhere. You could have a neighbor and not know it where you’re living.”

It should also be noted that extensive SORI (Sex Offender Registry Information) checks will also be done for potential tenants. Luce said that “Anyone that has a SORI that shows up, as I said, would be immediately rejected.”

Another main concern that residents raised was questioning how tenants who are actively dealing with addiction or mental illness would get the support they needed, especially in the proposed location.

For example, one resident talked about the need for a “24/7 economy” – an area with activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide social support.

This resident felt the “24/7 economy” would be necessary to support those tenants mentioned above and seemed skeptical about how the proponents could provide that in an area the resident described as “one of the sleepiest locations.”

In response, LaFrazia said, “We are providing many of those social, recreational, education activities on site. We understand the need for people to be able to be engaged in productive activity in their lives, and if it does not already exist in the Navy Yard, then we are embedding that into the programming that’s part of the services that we’ll be doing.”

Moreover, relating to how potential tenants dealing with active addiction or mental illness would get support, there were also concerns about those tenants getting complex medical care in a location that some felt did not have the facilities to provide it.

These aforementioned concerns only scratch the surface of the skepticism from many residents about this proposal. The Charlestown Voice website crowd-sourced 12 questions about the project; according to the site, they felt only three were touched on in a meeting that lasted almost two and a half hours.

Although there were a lot of concerns and questions raised about the project and seemingly significant opposition, a chunk of attendees showed their support for the project. 

One resident who had previously volunteered at the Pine Street Inn said he fully supported the project.

That same resident said in his work at the Pine Street Inn, “I realized one amazing fact – they [those at the Pine Street Inn] were basic human beings who had undergone a difficult life experience … they needed help.”

Another resident shared a story of his uncle who was “taken by alcohol and died on the streets of Worcester” and said, “It’s too bad that my uncle did not have a place like the Helm where he could find help.”

“We need to remember that everyone who will be living at the Helm is someone’s uncle or aunt, son or daughter, father or mother, sister or brother, and that they all have a right to a decent home and to be treated with kindness and respect.”

Overall while there are undoubtedly many concerns about the project, a point made by a few residents at the meeting and one that was bolstered by At-Large City Councilor Erin Murphy is important to keep in mind – opposition or concern about this project is not rooted in indifference or neglect of those battling addiction, those who are homeless or those with mental health issues.

“We have a homeless problem; we need to build more housing, we need affordable housing, we have people that are in recovery or not but need to get off the street – all of that is absolutely true. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people because we don’t think it’s [the project] a good fit,” said Murphy.

As for the next step in this process – it would be for the proponents to file a letter of intent and begin the Article 80 process. However, Grogan committed to coming back for another meeting before they would go forward.

“Before any filing would occur, we’re happy and willing – assuming the development committee invites us back – to come back and share that,” said Grogan.

For more information about the proposal and upcoming opportunities to provide feedback, you can visit or

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