AYER — Community Development Block Grants were established at the federal level to help middle- and low-income families keep their homes up to building codes, but a home in the Ayer portion of the Devens Enterprise Zone has fallen outside that mission, said town administrator Shaun Suhoski.
Communities apply for grants and administer them confidentially to households that fit eligibility guidelines.
Though Ayer has the grants, MassDevelopment, the entity with jurisdiction over the former Fort Devens, doesn’t. Because of that, the applicant is dealing with a costly and inefficient heating system this winter, said Suhoski.
“It’s unfortunate that a woman who’s qualified for housing assistance is caught in a bureaucratic no-man’s-land,” he said.
It’s the State Department of Housing and Community Development’s position that, since MassDevelopment became the temporary municipal authority at Devens in 1996 due to a redevelopment agreement between the state and towns, the agency needs to have the grants for the household to be eligible, said Suhoski.
“If the program exists to help people, they shouldn’t be penalized for living in the enterprise zone,” he said.
Suhoski brought the matter to the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 20 and suggested that program funds with greater leeway be tapped for the case.
But the selectmen responded only by authorizing an inspection of the building.
That’s, in part, because they want more clarity over who should bear the cost, said Suhoski.
The house in question is an affordable unit that was renovated several years ago and sold through an affordable housing lottery, which raises the question of whether MassDevelopment should pony up something for the project.
“The question is open: Should the state be involved since this was a state project four years ago?” said Suhoski. “I think the selectmen are rightly asking who has oversight of that.”
MassDevelopment Chief of Staff Meg Delorier confirmed the agency has had discussions with Suhoski on the matter. At this point, she said MassDevelopment is evaluating the situation.
“We’re looking into the matter and trying to get more information,” she said.
One official whose mind is already made up is Ayer Selectman Frank Maxant, who said the homeowner should be treated like any other Ayer resident.
“That house is in Ayer,” he said. “People use the terms like ‘historic boundaries’ to make it sound like it isn’t in Ayer. It is.”
Confusion at the state level is likely to blame for the answer Suhoski received, said Maxant, who’s in favor of pushing his viewpoint to Beacon Hill.
His position to help the homeowner was supported by the board, which will wait until its next meeting to hear what its options are from Suhoski.
“The selectmen want me to help, and they’ve asked me to find a way to help, but to also have the proper party underwriting the cost,” said Suhoski.