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Devenscrest residents take eviction fight to Ayer Select Board

Former Ayer Select Board Member Connie Sullivan spoke about the challenges he has seen his neighbors in Devenscrest face at Monday’s Select Board meeting. JACOB VITALI/LOWELL SUN
Former Ayer Select Board Member Connie Sullivan spoke about the challenges he has seen his neighbors in Devenscrest face at Monday’s Select Board meeting. JACOB VITALI/LOWELL SUN
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AYER — Building on the momentum from Saturday’s rally to stay in their homes, residents of Devenscrest Village took their fight to the Select Board on Tuesday evening.

In their corner was a familiar face in town politics: former Select Board member Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan.

During the public comment period, Sullivan approached the table and spoke on behalf of the group. Most seats in the room were taken by residents of the Devenscrest neighborhood, with more watching from the hallway.

“I’ve attended some of the meetings at Devenscrest. And what I’ve seen is panic and fear in the eyes of the people that live there. If they’re evicted, they don’t know where they’re going to go,” Sullivan said. “These are our neighbors, kids in our school system. At one point, heading west was always an option to try to find affordable housing, but it no longer is, given the current housing crisis caused by the pandemic.”

Sullivan said he was “disappointed” that members of the Select Board had not attended meetings with the neighborhood. Since residents received Notices to Quit their tenancy in mid-July, there have been two prominent meetings with the state delegation at the nearby Living Water Fellowship.

Additionally, he highlighted the difference he saw between the situation Devenscrest Village residents find themselves in as opposed to other places.

“It’s not like the scams that we’re seeing reported on TV where tenants have not paid landlords for a year or 18 months,” Sullivan said. “These are families that are current on their rent and have been. They can’t find anything comparable.”

Sullivan asked the board to “engage with all of the parties that are involved” including the Devenscrest families, the state delegation and Brady Sullivan Properties. He asked the Select Board to not just to engage, but “to help find a solution.”

“Whether that’s time, money, or as a last resort, a public taking of the private property for public purposes called eminent domain,” Sullivan said.

In response, Town Manager Robert Pontbriand said the town had been aware of the situation “since the beginning.”

Pontbriand said following the first meeting at Living Water Fellowship, the town issued a statement on the matter. He said the “main thrust” of the statement was that there was “erroneous information” at the initial meeting.

Pontbriand also noted a meeting slated for Thursday night with the Devenscrest Village tenant’s association to “further discuss their ideas and options.” However, Pontbriand didn’t directly address the suggestions of eminent domain or bringing parties together.

Devenscrest Village resident Denise Perrault came to the table to share her experiences.

This is not the first time Perrault has faced a no-fault eviction. Perrault said she faced one in 2017 and in 2007. While this is the first time somebody has offered her some financial assistance to relocate, she urged the Select Board and Town Manager to see the bigger picture.

“No matter how much help in money we get, that’s not the problem. The problem is, where are we going to live, and how are we going to pay for something that’s exorbitant,” Perrault said. “… Naturally, we’re going to be in the same position if we have to move out, find something more expensive and then not increase our income.”

Ayer’s Select Board also heard from former Acton Select Board member Terra Friedrichs. Although Friedrichs is from a nearby community, she holds onto memories of childhood friends who grew up at Devenscrest.

Friedrichs proposed creating a rehab trust in addition to the town’s affordable housing trust. Doing so would allow the town to purchase the homes, rehab them and not raise rent prices. The units would also count toward the town’s affordable housing stock, Fredericks said.

It remains to be seen if Brady Sullivan Properties would sell their assets in Devenscrest after purchasing them from local owner Larry Tocci earlier this year.

Devenscrest Village residents rally to stay in their homes