Wellesley established a 5-member Fair Housing Committee and plan in the early 1980s to provide education and advocate for fair housing in the community. The Board of Selectmen-appointed group withered away by the early 2000s, leaving the town’s planning director as the main fair housing rep.
The town in recent years has undertaken steps to diversify and increase its housing stock (see also, “Toward affordable— and attainable—housing in Wellesley”). Now it’s also revisiting the issue of fair housing.
Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop said during Monday’s Select Board meeting that the town was prompted by a resident to look into the status of fair housing oversight. Looking back at meeting minutes from years ago revealed that the Fair Housing Committee found it difficult to discuss important issues in public meetings due to confidentiality issues involving residents, and received few complaints about unfair housing from residents. The committee largely deferred the handling of such matters to the planning director, designated as the town’s fair housing officer. However, the committee was able to educate the public, and even worked on a regional conference with a state agency.
Jop said she and Don McCauley, the town’s planning director and fair housing officer, are now meeting with town counsel to determine what the approach should be for fair housing oversight in town—”whether that’s appointing and continuing the old model, or whether we’re moving forward with something completely new and potentially innovative…”
Jop herself was the town’s fair housing officer for 7 years, and said one benefit of having a staff person in charge is that it allowed for more immediate action than a committee would be able to take.
Wellesley has updated the page on the town website about fair housing. This includes links to the Health, Building, and other departments that handle typical questions related to housing. Among the documents found on the town’s website is an FY21 Planning Board report that includes a curious section on the Fair Housing Committee and documents the fact that the committee held no meetings last year and hasn’t had a member appointed since 2002.
Select Board Member Ann-Mara Lanza commented during Monday’s meeting that she and other town leaders attended a fair housing conference last week at which Arlington was recognized for its fair housing plan. She advocated for Wellesley possibly updating its action plan since it’s been so long.
Resident Odessa Sanchez, a Wellesley Housing Authority commissioner, says Town Meeting approval last month of accessory dwelling units, and recent the settlement of a fair housing case in Wellesley, are among topics that highlight the need for the town to have better fair housing resources available.