Letter to the Editor: Housing Concerns

Submitted by Charles Connell, a 2009 graduate of Bedford High School

A Letter to the EditorAfter reading the article “Residents Take Housing Concerns to Planning Board,” I am very disappointed in my home town. Of the many concerns raised by Bedford residents, not a single one displayed any sympathy for the people who were unlucky enough to find themselves in temporary housing. This elitism and lack of empathy is something we hear about happening in wealthy communities elsewhere in America, and sadly it is happening here in Bedford as well. The people living in the Bedford Plaza Hotel are not problems, they are human beings.

Residents “asked why Bedford has become the site for housing as many as 100 families and how that could be prevented in the future.”

Bedford should not be upset that it is a safe haven for society’s less fortunate. We should be proud to provide a nice community for people to live in, who might otherwise be forced to live in a less desirable location. According to the article, someone said, “Bedford is an American dream town, and I don’t want it to change.” This stood out as a particularly ignorant and bigoted comment. It is almost explicitly saying that anyone who isn’t already affluent should not be allowed into affluent communities. It also demonstrates a very perverted idea of the American Dream — apparently it now means that poor people should stay poor. The real problem here is poverty. We can keep it out of our town if we like, but that will not make it end for those who have to endure it. The truly upsetting news is not that greater numbers of low income people have found their way into our town, it is that there are ever greater numbers of poor people.

The program that is causing all of this controversy is very important.

It provides basic housing for families with children in school, at no cost to the town. For some children, it provides transportation to ensure that they have continuity in their educations, by allowing them to continue attending the schools they are familiar with. Bedford must pay for these students’ transportation initially, and it is unclear exactly how much of the cost will be reimbursed by the state. This should not be a problem for a town where every high-schooler is given an iPad. Education is how a society can break the cycle of poverty. If these children are to have a chance at a better life, they need to be supported, and their parents need to be supported. For the children attending the Bedford school system, I hope that the schools and their classmates welcome them and give them a good education. For their parents, I hope that Bedford might be the place where things get a little better for them.

At the planning board meeting, residents also complained about Bedford’s stock of affordable housing. Contrary to some residents’ suggestions, Bedford is not “carrying a heavier burden for affordable housing than surrounding towns.” It is not a burden to have a slightly higher percentage of low-rent apartments in our town than required by law. If anything, this should be a small point of pride. Despite the very high real estate prices in Bedford, there is still a chance that a family without an upper-middle class income could live here. Bedford is so expensive that many of the teachers in Bedford’s public schools do not make enough money to buy a house here. We should be asking how we can further increase the amount of affordable housing in the town, so that families forced to live in hotels could have proper homes. I’m calling on the town of Bedford to encourage more affordable housing so that some of the homeless students entering the Bedford school system this year could have a real home here within a few years.


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30 Comments

  1. This issue is not about homeless people. Its about fairness and a state govt. that is not using common sense. Let me explain: Bedford has one of the highest affordable housing % rates of any town in the state. In addition we house all of the Hanscom AFB high school students at our high school. All of this and other growth has pushed all of our schools to capacity. So the question to raise is why are we being punished by the state after all the good we have done? There are surrounding communities that do not meet the minimum affordable housing percentage and also have far more capacity in their schools than we do. Filling this hotel up with homeless people is overcrowding our schools which hurts all of our students. Secondly by placing these people in this hotel they are violating our zoning by laws. This hotel was not permitted to become a long term housing complex and we should demand that this illegal use cease ASAP and our Town should be compensated for the burden they have placed on all our taxpayers.

    • Joe — I’m surprised at you. After so many thoughtful years as a Selectman. Please don’t refer to our new neighbors as a “punishment” a for past accomplishments. This is an “opportunity” to be generous, and caring for people on the unfortunate side of the housing equation.

      The other day I saw an expansive list of all the advantages homeless people have. …..

      1. ………

      I join the many, many residents who welcome these new short term residents and hope to make their stay here both productive and without a cloud of prejudgement.
      Peace
      Ron Green

      • Ron you are missing my point. The State has placed these families in a substandard illegal hotel that is not permitted for this use. Drive down there as I have many times in recent weeks. There is no place for the kids to play as this place is surrounded by roads with heavy traffic. The rooms do not have the required sprinklers for this use. Secondly take a look at our schools. They are at and beyond capacity. So why are you defending a state agency that is acting this irresponsible?

  2. Your problem is, far to many Tea Baggers in Bedford, of course they will be judgmental, to say the least, they have been called insurrectionists and I believe rightly so.

  3. Just a reminder to all that there is a public meeting tonight at 7:30 in Town Hall to hear all the concerns around this issue. You will also hear what both Town and State officials are doing to address them.

    Please make the time to show up. It is important that all sides be fairly represented.

  4. Dear Mr. Connell,

    First, thank you for taking the time to contribute to this important discussion. The ability to voice issues, concerns and points of view is central and critical to our society. This said, I was deeply pained and concerned by your letter as well as some of its comments. What concerns me most is that the discussion to-date, and perhaps even some contributions I’ve made personally, could in some way make you feel differently about the wonderful town in which you grew up or its people. I would like nothing more than to attempt to ease your mind with regard to at least some aspects of this debate. Most importantly, I would like to assure you that the issues of elitism, bigotry or race that have been projected onto this discussion have not been suggested by myself nor others I have spoken with, that they have no bearing on the issues being discussed, and that they have no place in our society.

    Speaking for myself as the adopted son of an African-American father, having an interracial younger brother, having grown up poor and moving 11 times before college and being the beneficiary of affordable housing, I would like to suggest to you that it has never been this commentator’s intent to in any way imply that issues of race, creed nor walk of life have anything to do with this discussion. It should go without saying then, that labeling individuals bigots, racists, elitists, or any other term is not only offensive, but ironic and unproductive.

    Having wrestled with these topics and discussed them with others, I see two issues at the core of this discussion. These are the fair application of state law, and town-specific policies related to the percentage of affordable housing.

    With regards to the hotel, it has been stated (but can stand to be re-stated) that the issue is not housing homeless families. As evidence by public comments at the previous town meeting and by the charitable deeds of many in the town, the issue is proportionality – fair guidance within a law that distributes the effects of its application equally. It’s a good thing indeed if we can help those in desperate need, but it should be done in such a way that care is delivered with quality, does not effect town resources, and does not pad the pockets of a business owner. What’s more, the sources of the substantially larger number of students this year may be coming from many sources according the the school superintendent – not from the children staying at the hotel (a survey is underway to find out more). The second issue deals with the development of Bedford. Here the issue is that planning to sustain a significantly higher-than-average level of affordable housing is not so much about the ‘affordable’ aspect, but the fact that increasing the number of any housing increases already heavy traffic and swells school class-sizes (as schools can’t be enlarged). The question in this case is why grow at all. If we were to stay the same as we are today, our percentage of affordable housing is higher than most other towns in the state, schools are full, and resources are well-matched to the town’s population.

    Please understand that the spirit in which these questions are being asked is anything but elitist. American demography is changing faster than at any time in its history. Much has been written about the stratification of our country’s people and its distribution of wealth – a stratification that is gaining speed. I, for one, am not a member of the 1% nor is anyone I know. And the difference between this storied 1% and those at anything less is so massive it is difficult to quantify. What I am is a working member of a two-income household with two children. The kind of town that Bedford is today is the kind of place that we aspired to call home since leaving college and going to work 20 years ago. We were fortunate to find jobs in our chosen profession, work hard, be blessed with children, and be able to afford a modest house in this wonderful town. What Bedford gives my children is something I never had, the feeling of security that comes from living in a house most of their adolescent life, having a yard to play in, walking a quiet street to the school bus. And this simple idea is what I mean when I say “The American Dream” – the possibility of giving my kids something better than what I had. I hope that doesn’t sound elitist. But the cost of affording this dream is higher than it’s ever been, and growing. I don’t know about others, but this discussion isn’t about gaining something. It’s about holding on to something by the skin of your teeth.

    And this is why, at the end of a never-ending series of long and stressful workdays when you hear that on the first day back to school there wasn’t enough space in the lunch room, that reading programs are overbooked and that school officials didn’t expect the increase it shoots a pang of anxiety straight through your chest. And, in the course of asking about what’s happening at school you learn that the town plans a substantial expansion of housing that will create even more students you begin to question the very idea of being able to do what’s best for your family. I think some have called Bedford a “middle class town” and I would agree. You can’t argue with the folks who have lived here for a hundred years. They’re right that Bedford used to be more affordable. So did everything. The idea of a middle class town hasn’t changed. But the amount of money it takes to live in a middle class town – one with yards, quiet streets and good schools – has. Dramatically. As a father and provider that is a very difficult truth to accept. But it is true. And it is absolutely terrifying. And that is why I, for one, am asking these questions. I am asking why a situation created by a state law is not being checked by the town, and not because of this issue in particular, but because if any law may be applied unfairly to the town unopposed then we’re in trouble. And I am asking what we gain by putting in place policies that could increase our population while reducing our open spaces and increasing demands on schools and resources.

    These are important questions. They are difficult questions. But they are not evil nor ill intentioned questions. It’s hard to find and afford a place to live that provides quiet environs with good schools, and it’s getting even harder. This isn’t about the composition of Bedford’s residents. It is about the ability of Bedford to keep on being the place you grew up in. I respect the people I have come to know in this town and I want to understand better what they think about the issues facing us.

    Respectfully Yours.

  5. Amen and thank goodness. I’ve been trying to think of the best way to express my feelings about this and I’m grateful that someone has stepped up and said what needs to be said. That you are a young person, Charles, makes me all the more hopeful. My first thought when I heard about all the homeless students from the hotel entering the Bedford schools this fall was how wonderful it is that we are the kind of community that has the capacity and compassion to welcome and care for them. I am grateful to the church communities and other organizations reaching out to help. I’m grateful that our children have the opportunity to see that not everyone has what many of us are so lucky to have in this part of the world and how every person deserves a kind word, a warm welcome and a chance.

  6. I am a very proud Bedford resident who, alongside her husband, worked very, very hard to purchase our home in Bedford. We did this on our own and it involved a great deal of sacrifice.
    While I find it disgusting the State thought it was okay to house the homeless in hotel rooms without laundry or cooking facilities, I do not feel I owe the homeless a home in Bedford simply because its a desirable town.
    I grew up in Chelsea, MA which was just listed as the 11th most dangerous city in America. I was not given any advantages at all. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and college. The only “advantage” I had was being blessed with two parents who worked hard and taught their kids to do the same.
    I do not believe I am a racist or an elitist because I do not wish to buy a family a home in Bedford simply because its desired. I am very, very proud that I have achieved the American dream of living in this fabulous town through a great American ideal-hard work.

  7. Well done, Charles. I particularly appreciate the way you remind us that “these people” are not problems, they are human beings. Although I, too, share your disappointment at the opinions voiced by some, I am also very proud of the numerous local volunteers who are supporting families at the Plaza through Horizons for Homeless Children, Community Cooks, and various other town organizations and churches. It is in such efforts that we see the best that Bedford has to offer as a caring, socially responsible community.

    • Dave , I am your neighbor living in Bedford for 21 years and am your extended relative too…we all volunteer and I have a very lengthy resume of doing so, but that in not what this complex issues is all about. There are many layers of economic realities tied in to this issue–among them is that the State of MA put out an RFP for hotels to host families who have no permanent home at this time. The savvy business owner of the hotel found that it was in his economic interest to respond to this RFP and get paid to host these people… so he did what was in his economic interest and the Town of Bedford was not a participant in this process. Most recently he dramatically increased the number of families he was hosting, again to meet his economic agenda. There is consensus that proportionality is a concern and it has now been addressed by the Town with the State, with the expected end result being a future reduction in the number of families the hotel is hosting…FYI. Deb Picciuto

      • Hi Deb, it’s great to hear from you. You’re absolutely right, many of us do have a lengthy resume of volunteer work, which is exactly what I said in my first paragraph in talking about all of the families in town who donate their time and money. Unfortunately the focus of the original comments wasn’t on the substance of what you raised, so I felt someone had to stand up to the charges of racism, ignorance, and indifference towards our fellow citizens of Massachusetts with real-world examples of why those charges couldn’t be further from the truth. As I also said it pains me to see residents making those charges, which is why I asked for a more productive dialogue (and with no implied swearing.)

        This will be my last comment here in this forum. I’ll be attending the town meeting tonight and don’t currently have any plans to say anything, but if for some reason I do, it will be about finding a solution that benefits all parties. According to a letter we received from the town, the Massachusetts building codes prohibit extended stays in facilities such as the Bedford Plaza Hotel. Those regulations exist for a reason, since it’s unfair to those families having to spend months or a year or two in a room with no laundry facilities, no kitchen, and scant privacy. I’d like nothing more than to see folks on both sides of this issue figure out how we can work with those families and the state to find them more permanent accommodations, while also exploring how other towns can lend a hand so we can pool resources and greatly increase the chances to improve their living conditions.

  8. Charles, I applaud you for taking the time to write this letter and express your views. I think it’s fantastic that you’re clearly committed to a vision where the residents of Bedford help the less fortunate, just like many of the people who are now being accused by one of the commenters here of being ignorant as well as racist.

    Those same folks who are being accused of ignorance and racism are the same ones who have contributed time and money to helping those exact same families they supposedly disdain so much either directly or through the churches and other organizations in town. They are moms and dads who volunteer hundreds of hours annually for charitable cause after charitable cause, many of which directly impact the community.

    What I don’t see in your editorial is any genuine recognition of proportionality. Bedford is one of 301 towns or cities in this state, and by various documents I’ve seen we are hosting more homeless families per capita than any of the other 300 towns. I think we should be applauded, not denigrated. Where are the Bedford residents writing letters to the editor of the towns surrounding Bedford asking why they are hosting only a fraction of the homeless families per capita as Bedford is?

    If a ship sinks and there are 300 lifeboats, does it make sense to overload one when so many others are barely full? Wouldn’t the best outcome for those swimming in the water to be more evenly distributed across those boats where the resources would in aggregate be more plentiful?

    This “luxury vehicle” driving “elitist” (as I’ve been characterized on this page) is about to go on his fourth mission trip in 4 years to Guatemala to help the poorest and most malnourished people in the western hemisphere. My wife and I have donated funds to build entire homes for people in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala, spent thousands of dollars in the past 24 months to pay for transportation for three sick children (kidney failure, Hodgkins Lymphoma and Von Willebrand’s Disease) to get life saving care in the capital city, sponsor 3 children to go to school, provide monthly food for a family who’s father is a paraplegic, and have spent hundreds of hours this year alone organizing and packing shipments of clothing, food, toys, medicine, and vitamins – the next shipment of which will leave next Monday morning for Guatemala.

    We aren’t the uncaring, yuppy elitists that some would like to portray us as. But is it too much to ask for us to be able to question why Bedford is doing more than any other town in the state? Is it a crazy idea to think that when all towns contribute, those disadvantaged families will be better off? Am I being selfish for worrying that the class sizes for my kids are 10% or 15% above recommended guidelines for a proper learning environment? Don’t I have a right to be concerned about reports of drug activity outside the hotel?

    I’m saddened that I even had to write this, but I refuse to be stereotyped by the commenters on this page as some heartless barbarian, nevermind a racist one at that. It seems that it’s all too convenient sometimes to forget that those dreaded people who buy the teardowns in town are frequently the ones who use that same job to contribute sizable donations to the most needy both domestically and internationally, in addition to contributing their time.

    By the way, in the 4 years I’ve been involved with Guatemala, this is the first public forum I’ve ever mentioned the work we do, excluding my facebook page which is what I use to reach out to my friends to see if they’d be interested in joining the cause. We don’t do it for recognition, we do it because we’re a caring family that recognizes how much we’ve been blessed and have decided to give back. If you’d like to learn more about how you can put your admirable convictions for helping the poor to work, please let me know.

    In the meantime, I again want to applaud you for getting involved. I’m not trying to create a hostile exchange here, but instead to point out that those people commenting who would label us racist and ignorant should think about how unproductive that dialogue is. We may not have all lived here for a decade or even a millennium, but the reality is we’re all taxpayers, and we all have a right to be heard.

    Dave Patterson

    • “Those same folks who are being accused of ignorance and racism are the same ones who have contributed time and money to helping those exact same families they supposedly disdain so much either directly or through the churches and other organizations in town. They are moms and dads who volunteer hundreds of hours annually for charitable cause after charitable cause, many of which directly impact the community.”

      I call bull**** on that. I’d like to see a show of hands from the complainers as to who has done volunteer work at the hotel, lobbied our government and real developers to create more affordable housing, lobbied for a higher minimum wage so that working families can afford “affordable housing”, or otherwise done something that might have the effect of giving anyone at the Plaza a hand up. Please, make a fool of me. Show me that even 10% of the complainers have done so much as lift a finger to help out the people living in the Plaza. Heck, I’ll be impressed if it’s even 2%.

      “Am I being selfish for worrying that the class sizes for my kids are 10%
      or 15% above recommended guidelines for a proper learning environment?”

      Yes. Considering that you’re essentially telling the kids from the Plaza to go **** themselves you appear very selfish. But perhaps I’m too quick to judge, what’s your proposal for getting those kids an opportunity at a decent education? I’m all ears.

      “Don’t I have a right to be concerned about reports of drug activity
      outside the hotel?”

      Sure. Just out of curiosity though, when was the last time you were in the hotel? Or walked past it? Or spoke with any of the residents? What’s your assessment of the dope dealer percentage?

      Have a nice day.

      • Hello East Coast Elitist. I’d be happy to engage in a conversation except for the fact that I published my real name, whereas you chose to hurl insults from behind a pseudonym. When you have the courage to publish your real name, come back and talk to me. By the way, commenter “Chris” did in fact respond with specific assistance that has been provided, of which my family has been a part.

          • Hi, it’s great that you posted your e-mail, but my point was that you didn’t share your name with the other folks on this site as I have done. If you post your real name, I’d be happy to meet for coffee. If that isn’t agreeable to you, then no worries. We’re both just two people expressing our thoughts for anyone who cares to read them, and if folks disagree with what I’ve said, then I’ll still sleep well knowing that we live in a country where we have the freedom to make up our own minds. I don’t write any of these words lightly since it pains me for people in town to be in such disagreement with each other, but as you have your beliefs, I have mine, and I hope that future conversations can be had without the need to include words that require censorship with asteriks **** to get one’s point across.

          • My offer stands. If you want to have a face-to-face discussion then you know how to contact me.

      • EastCoast – I am sure you are well intentioned. You are just ill informed, and seemingly lack any sense of basic economics or logical causality. If one does not advocate for a minimum wage increase, then they do not want to see the poor raise their living conditions?? That is an absolute absurdity. How many poor and low skilled workers cannot get a job because the minimum wage exists? Do you think you can simply force companies to pay more money, and they will continue to hire as many workers? Again, you might be well intentioned, but you are just wrong on how to get there. You think forcing developers to build more affordable housing will make housing more affordable? It is totally illogical. They will simply not build in a particular location, and there will be less jobs. You can make Bedford quite “affordable” by lowering the living standards for residents. Housing prices will fall – and then the cycle will continue.

    • nice. you buy yourself an indulgence through your work in guatemala so that you don’t have to put up with the people in need that are right in your front yard.
      This is what makes bedford one of the 100 best communities to live.

      • “nice. you buy yourself an indulgence through your work in guatemala so
        that you don’t have to put up with the people in need that are right in
        your front yard.”

        Now, now, Rick. Good villagers don’t point out such things.

  9. This is a well written and thoughtful piece. And most likely well intentioned. Unfortunately, it is severely lacking in reality. It is a seductive and compassionate vision. More homeless in our Town – welcome them with open arms. More affordable housing. More services. Certainly commendable to want to help. But as a practical matter, it is just untenable. Economics has a nasty way of preventing unlimited wants.

  10. Well said. I do think there are people that care and are concerned about these people (but those you talk about have been more vocal recently). There have been numerous clothing drives to help cut those costs for families over the past few years. This summer, several churches and organizations provided bagged lunches every day of the week, to replace the free school lunches the school age kids got during the school years. And when Mr Ackerman asked if people could donate snacks for kids who couldn’t afford them, within a couple days he said they were well-stocked and didn’t need any more snacks. I think the people doing those positive things, have just been a lot quieter than the others.

  11. Thank you Charles! I am a 16 year resident of Bedford with almost two decades of experience working with homeless families and advocating for affordable housing. It is so refreshing to hear your perspective as a recent high school graduate. I have been following this issue with dismay. It has been deeply upsetting to read and hear the ignorance, racism, and NIMBYism apparent in some of the comments on these two issues (homeless families at the hotel and affordable housing in town are two completely separate concerns). Thank you for speaking out! I fear sounding ancient when I say, we need more young people like you in town!

  12. Bravo. I agree with your feelings. I do think that our multitude of tear-downs in town is making it even harder for families to move into Bedford.

  13. Thank you for this thoughtful and well-written response. I, too, was feeling disappointed and discouraged with my hometown. My family has lived in Bedford for almost 100 years and I can tell you that things have already changed. For Bedford, being an “American dream town” didn’t always mean living in an enormous house and driving luxury vehicles. There was a time it wasn’t just for the wealthy. It was filled with decent, hardworking people like my great-uncle who grew up in Bedford, and working as a janitor at BHS could still afford to raise his own family there. There are a lot of us who grew up in Bedford who can no longer afford to live there. Maybe some of these concerned citizens would be well advised to keep in mind that when they consider Bedford as being too good for lower income families they may very well be referring to their own future children or grandchildren.

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