The Town of Wellesley depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Wellesley has 11 Boards and Committees on the ballot at the Annual Town election each year in March. The 2021 election will be held on Tuesday, March 2.
There are three candidates running for two open 5-year seats on the Wellesley Housing Authority. The WHA is run by a Board of Commissioners and is the principal housing advocate within its community, charged with planning and implementing a balanced housing program. In addition to planning, advocacy, and determining the needs of tenants, the board has the responsibility for placing the agency’s operations in the context of policy.
The Swellesley Report invited the candidates to answer a few questions about their qualifications and priorities for the Town of Wellesley.
Micah O’Neil, candidate for Wellesley Housing Authority
The Swellesley Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Micah O’Neil: I believe my 20 years living in Wellesley, my educational history and 30 years of professional commercial construction experience, if brought to the service of the Town of Wellesley and the Housing Authority, will add experience that directly relates to the mission of the Town of Wellesley and the Housing Authority. My diversity in education includes a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Northeastern University, MBA from Northeastern University, and as an Adjunct Professor within Roger Williams University’s Graduate School. During my 30 years of commercial construction experience I have overseen the construction of over two billion dollars in construction including thousands of beds of low/market rate housing, residential dorms, senior housing, and luxury condominiums. Currently I have 450 low/market rate income residential units in pre-construction or under construction. In addition, ten years or so ago I participated on a Town of Wellesley restructuring committee focused on improving the communication and efficiency of the Wellesley Maintenance Facilities and various other departments.
I believe strongly in helping people in need. The cost of housing is unaffordable for so many. A productive use of resource is constructing and maintaining housing and subsidizing the cost of purchase or rental for people who demonstrate need.
TSR: Given the economic instability currently at hand, what should be the Wellesley Housing Authority’s top priorities?
O’Neil: The need for public housing will most certainly increase in the future. There will be increased pressure on cost and likely less funds available to offset these cost increases.
1) Escalating cost of maintenance, construction, and operations of housing units.
2) Increased need for public housing unit quantity and quality; with living conditions and the environmental sustainability of properties getting increased attention from local, state, and federal agencies, as well as from the public and advocacy groups.
3) The likelihood of fewer state financial funds being available for Wellesley in future years.
I believe a very effective strategy of managing the above issues would be to develop a comprehensive Town of Wellesley Community Land Trust. Utilizing a Land Trust will allow the town to expand/improve the public housing units and increase affordable unit totals with significantly less, or no, financial burden on the Town of Wellesley compared to developing/renovating the Town of Wellesley’s public housing units with traditional methods.
TSR: What is your long-term vision for what WHA properties should look like?
O’Neil: As mentioned in my response to the above questions, I believe a Wellesley Land Trust strategy would allow Wellesley to raise the quality of the public housing units and develop much-needed affordable housing units as a coordinated design, construction and management strategy. The City of Cambridge implemented a Land Trust strategy very successfully in the late 1980’s and continues to manage their public and affordable units under a Land Trust today. I have firsthand experience working with Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA). I have overseen three renovation/expansion projects totaling over $100 million for CHA over the past five to six years for Shawmut Design & Construction.
It is important that the fabric of the Wellesley residential neighbors is not impacted negatively. I am confident new public housing and additional affordable units can be created sensibly. The scale, size, massing, and positioning of the housing needs to be done in a sensible and properly planned and well thought out manner.
I support the Wellesley Housing Production Plan and would use it as a guide as Wellesley Housing Authority considers development options for the existing public units within Wellesley.
I believe it is important to design, construct and maintain properties with sustainability at the forefront. Strong consideration for redevelopment is needed to efficiently utilize the current sites and implement sustainability practices (highly insulated envelopes, energy efficient/carbon neutral MEP systems, solar and/or geothermal, stormwater management, reuse of rainwater and gray water, etc.). Many of these sustainable technologies/practices can be added to existing buildings, but it can be expensive and less effective than designing them into the buildings from the conceptual design stage. Given the importance of reducing emissions, it may be necessary to upgrade existing buildings with the longer-term goal of complete renovation/redevelopment of the properties.
TSR: Is there anything else you would like to say that the above questions did not cover?
O’Neil: I would be honored to serve the Town of Wellesley on the Housing Authority Board and ask for your support and vote on March 2nd. I have the professional and personal experience to step into the board position on day one and provide immediate support and guidance given my 20 years living in Wellesley and my 30 years of commercial construction experience.
TSR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?