NEW: MHP offers incentives to multifamily owners to encourage more green & healthy affordable housing. MORE

First-time buyer? Check out ONE Mortgage

Why Harborlight is a worthy housing hero

Posted on December 4, 2018

(Note: In recognition of Harborlight Community Partners' Andrew DeFranza receiving a Community Service Awards, we are re-posting MHP's remarks upon awarding DeFranza and Harborlight a MHP Housing Hero Award in June, 2017).

When asked why his organization is so determined to bring affordable housing to the North Shore, Harborlight Community Partners Executive Director Andrew DeFranza didn’t mince words.

“We think it’s important that communities have a modest supply of housing for people who cut your grass, pour your beer, make your coffee, and take care of your children and grandparents,” he said.

DeFranza has delivered this message countless times at local meetings, over coffee, on local cable TV, on social media and in newspapers.  His tireless advocacy, coupled with Harborlight’s long presence as a force for affordable housing, is why the Massachusetts Housing Partnership recently honored Harborlight CP with one of its annual Housing Hero Awards.

DeFranza and Harborlight have been hard at work trying to get more housing permitted on the North Shore. This year, Harborlight is starting construction on 26 supportive apartments in Salem for formerly homeless individuals.  It also received approval from the Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals to turn a former greenhouse business site into 23 affordable apartments for seniors and families.

In addition, Harborlight has proposed several revisions to a 60-unit affordable senior housing development that was approved by the Town of Wenham in 2015. The development has been delayed by two lawsuits brought by neighbors. The plaintiffs recently turned down Harbolight’s latest proposal.

Harborlight also has an agreement to work with the Town of Hamilton to increase the supply of affordable housing there. Over the past 18 months, Harborlight has made several proposals to build housing on one of three sites, or a combination of housing on these sites, only to run into abutter resistance each time. Last month, it proposed to build 20 senior apartments on one site and 40 family apartments near the regional high school.

“For the past seven years, MHP has recognized individuals and organizations that have demonstrated great passion and tenacity for affordable housing,” said MHP Executive Director Clark Ziegler. “Harborlight epitomizes this spirit, not only in the housing it has built but for taking financial risks and sticking with it to find solutions in communities where it takes longer to build consensus.”

DeFranza is the point person for Harborlight. He attends most local meetings, is quoted often in local newspapers and regularly provides updates through social media. While his passion and commitment have not been able to move developments forward in Hamilton and Wenham yet, it has won him respect.  Recently, five ministers from Hamilton and Wenham penned a letter to the local weekly paper urging compromise.  The ministers wrote:

“Although some of us know Andrew better than others, all of us can vouch for him,” they wrote. “He is a man of great integrity and trustworthiness, and thankfully, a man of considerable humor and patience.”

Part of DeFranza’s strength comes from his board of directors. Harborlight’s origins date back to the 1960s when the First Baptist Church of Beverly began to focus on housing for seniors on fixed incomes. By 2000, it had developed over 200 apartments for seniors in Beverly.

In 2007, it hired the New Jersey-born DeFranza. Two years later, it expanded into the region and became Harborlight. Through acquisitions and new development, it will soon manage or support 390 units in nine communities – Beverly, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Marblehead, Peabody, Rockport, Salem and Wenham.

“We feel it is our mission to bring affordable housing to wherever it needs to be,” said John C. Thomson, a Beverly-based lawyer and longtime board member dating back to its origins at the Beverly's First Baptist Church.

Other Harborlight board members echoed Thomson’s sense of mission and credited DeFranza with being an effective messenger.

“When we see an opportunity, we try to develop affordable housing. It’s what we do and it’s an obligation for all our communities,” said Robert Gillis, Harborlight’s board chair and president of Cape Ann Savings Bank. “We’re very fortunate to have Andrew. He’s the whole package.”

“Andrew is a force of nature,” added Attorney Kurt James, another board member.  “He understands financing, subsidy, and is terrific in drilling down into budgets. He has terrific relationships with (local leaders). He always goes the extra mile to meet with people. He’s open and transparent.”

DeFranza accepted the Housing Hero Award on June 8 at an awards luncheon at MHP’s Housing Institute, a two-day training for local officials. Also honored were the Town of Bedford and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

Below are DeFranza's acceptance remarks. It's worth a watch and a listen.