"Anti-Snob" Zoning Law Aids Homeless Housing Plan
Listen to Ben Gilbert's report.
"I will have meals together with them every day. I will be problem solving with them every day. When you have things in common with people, then you know how to talk to them -- and then you build relationships."
"I don't want it in my neighborhood. You're getting all kind of people, and some people -- you just can't change them, that's all."
Some residents in the Cape Cod town of Sandwich (founded in 1639) are in an uproar over Livia Munck Davis' plan to build an unusual farm community where the homeless -- some of them addicted to drugs or suffering from mental illness -- are rehabilitated. And as Ben Gilbert reports, a Massachusetts law that's been used to open up affluent communities to middle- and low-income residents may be a decisive factor in the dispute.
Davis wants to create her work farm on a 50-acre wooded site that was a real farm half a century ago -- land purchased with a federal housing grant. She models the project, dubbed Dana's Fields, on the Danish farm her great-grandfather founded in 1912.
Under the plan, up to 60 residents will live in communal dorms, laid out in a village setting, and learn vocational skills like computers or catering. The residents would also farm the land. Davis says the setting will help create a sense of community and belonging -- things Davis says the homeless need the most.
"I will have meals together with them every day," Davis says. "I will be problem solving with them every day. When you have things in common with people, then you know how to talk to them -- and then you build relationships."
Homeless advocates and some federal housing officials have said if Davis' plan is successful, it could become a national model. "But for many people in town, Davis' utopian vision is menacing," Gilbert says. "They say Dana's Fields will bring dangerous criminals, drug addicts and mentally handicapped people."
Leading the opposition to Davis' project is the Sandwich Family Association. They say staffing will be inadequate and funding won't be reliable -- and that Davis won't listen to their concerns. They also fear the facility will drive down property values and become a tax burden for the town.
"The tensions poured out at a recent town meeting. A non-binding vote showed that the town was split almost down the middle," Gilbert says. But the state's so-called "anti-snob" zoning law -- which allows developers to circumvent local zoning codes if less than 10 percent of a city's housing is considered affordable -- may well allow Davis to go ahead with her plan after all. Only 2 percent of Sandwich's housing is rated as "affordable," putting Sandwich near the bottom of the state's affordable housing list.
Attorney Bob Engler, who has made a career out of fighting for affordable housing in Massachusetts, says opponents in Sandwich have a weak case against Dana's Fields. "We like to take the people that are disadvantaged and... shut them off somewhere, and keep them out of sight. That's a particularly American trait, in my experience."
Dana's Fields Web site
Sandwich Family Association
The Housing Assistance Corporation runs a 50-bed homeless shelter in Hyannis, Mass.