Letter: Why I resigned from Swampscott Housing

To the editor:

I am writing to express my deep disappointment in the Board of the Swampscott Housing Authority.  Elected in the spring of 2019, I imagined bringing my Select Board experience to bear on an important, under-recognized issue in our town: Fifty percent of the public housing units for elders and disabled persons are not accessible. They are second-floor units only accessed by walking up a full flight of stairs.  

As of August 2021, there were more than 2,500 applicants for elder/handicap housing units in Swampscott, many of whom cannot climb stairs. Since 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act has required new construction and renovations to have elevators in such housing. Thirty years is far past the time when Swampscott public housing should have met this standard either with renovations or new construction. 

During my 1 ½ year tenure on this board, I have pressed for a full discussion of accessibility for all, and long-term planning as a regular meeting agenda item. Unfortunately, the board leadership has continued to ignore the need for such a substantive discussion. There is no sense of urgency to rectify this major problem, and discussion of the issue has not even been put on the table.

This summer, the board passed up an opportunity for a $50,000 feasibility study grant that could have provided $15 million in state building funds. In a 3 to 2 vote, pursuing this grant was voted down, even with the town’s Economic and Community Development department’s offer to write the grant for the Housing Authority.

Frankly, I cannot continue to participate on a public housing board that does not have consensus on the priority for addressing an accessibility problem for elders and disabled persons. Housing Authority meetings are dysfunctional and the board is not moving in a positive direction for current or future residents. I resign. 

Town of Swampscott leaders have offered their support to the Housing Authority. Many thanks for their engagement and care for our residents. I certainly hope that in the coming years, there will be change in Housing Authority leadership to functionally benefit current and future residents of our Doherty Circle, Cherry Street/Court, and Duncan Terrace public housing.

Naomi Dreeben
6 Sheridan Terrace

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