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Relief could be on the way for Devenscrest residents

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 — Some relief could be on the way for residents of Devenscrest Village facing no-fault evictions.

Last Tuesday night, the town’s Select Board said it would re-engage the state legislative delegation and consider a townwide eviction moratorium. As Devenscrest residents search for a way to remain in their homes at an affordable cost, families say they have continued paying rent and will continue to do so.

The renewed promise to find solutions came as residents of Devenscrest Village made a second appearance before the Select Board, with former Select Board member Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan speaking on their behalf.

Tuesday marked 27 days remaining on the Notices to Quit sent by Devenscrest landlord Brady Sullivan Properties (no relation to Connie Sullivan) earlier this summer. With the likelihood of formal eviction filings drawing nearer, there is an increased hope to see more urgent action.

In recent weeks, the Devenscrest tenant’s association had met with Town Manager Robert Pontbriand privately. Pontbriand had also tried to engage with Brady Sullivan Properties, albeit unsuccessfully.

“They have no interest in meeting,” Pontbriand said. “They’ve made it clear to my office that Devenscrest is not for sale.”

Pontbriand also appeared frustrated with the state legislative delegation over a lack of understanding regarding available funding to support residents.

“To be completely honest, in my conversation with the state senator, (he) indicated to me when I asked him what his plan was, he told me he didn’t have a plan,” Pontbriand said. “The funding issue is the purview of the state delegation, not the purview of the town and the town is supportive of the residents in this situation.”

Prior conversations between residents and the town have broached the subject of whether the town would consider taking the land through eminent domain as a last resort.

For Pontbriand, eminent domain was a “nonstarter.”

“As the town manager, professionally and personally, having been through this, it is not the purview of the scope of the board of this town to take that property by eminent domain, we do not have the capacity to do that,” Pontbriand said.

Pontbriand stated the town would need to offer at least $11.8 million for the Devenscrest properties, the price Brady Sullivan paid earlier this year. He added the town would incur additional costs through having the land appraised, bringing the properties up to code, temporarily rehousing tenants during repairs, and in legal costs.

“There is an understanding that we’re aware of, where a municipality has taken, in this case, private property for affordable housing purposes,” Pontbriand said. “Because the eminent domain has to be for all of the public good. And of course, it’s of interest to those that live there and we sympathize with that, but for the other 8,000 people, is that in the public interest for them?”

Cornelius Sullivan countered and said the hope would not be to see every property taken, nor was it the option he wanted to go. Throughout, he and members of the tenants association have maintained a desire to stay in their homes at an affordable rate.

“Eminent domain certainly is not the first choice,” Cornelius Sullivan said. “It is a choice of last resort, but it needs to be an option that’s left on the table.”

The reason Cornelius Sullivan wanted to have every option available is due to the lack of options for the tenants facing eviction.

“People that are modest means, again, don’t have many options on where to go. I’m hearing that the town, at least through the Board of Health, is offering shelters,” Cornelius Sullivan said. “Is that really the option that we’re looking at? And do we even have shelters that can take all of these families? And are these families going to continue to keep their kids in our school district?”

Additionally, Cornelius Sullivan argued the eviction process could take several months to play out if tenants choose to fight them when they are filed. If it truly came down to eminent domain, there may be more time to refine the approach.

On Cornelius Sullivan’s idea of an eviction moratorium, Assistant Town Manager Carly Antonellis said an eviction moratorium could not apply to a specific neighborhood, rather it would need to be applied townwide.

Select Board member Jannice Livingston appeared open to an eviction moratorium, however, Livingston appeared apprehensive when it came to eminent domain.

As the Select Board continues to search for a solution, Livingston wanted to make her feelings on the whole situation known.

“This actually makes me sick to my stomach. OK, I know that somebody’s going to hear that. Yeah, it actually makes me sick to my stomach, especially after all that we have gone through in the past year and a half,” Livingston said. “It really does. So I want it clear that as a human being, I am disgusted, and I am actually trying to figure out the best way, not just for the people that are being affected but for the whole town because that’s what we have to do.”