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Meet MHP's Housing Heroes

Posted on May 4, 2022

BOSTON --- Beginning in 2011, MHP added a Housing Hero Awards luncheon ceremony to its annual Housing Institute two-day training for local officials and volunteers.

Register for MHP's 2022 Housing Institute

"In a state where local decisions about more housing are made at the local level, MHP decided it was important to recognize elected officials, municipal staff, local leaders and volunteers for their role in supporting affordable homes and convincing residents to do likewise," said Rus Lodi, MHP's director of public affairs.

MHP has recognized housing heroes every year since 2011, except for 2020 and 2021 when the Housing Institute was cancelled or curtailed due to COVID. 

MHP is planning to resume its Housing Hero Awards this year during its second virtual session on Wednesday, June 8. This will be the second day of MHP's Housing Institute. 

In anticipation of that day, here are the past winners:

2011

Charles Raskin, volunteer, Wayland - After retiring in 1995, this former clothes salesman began serving on the Wayland Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. During his tenure on the board and as chairman, he oversaw millions of dollars of preservation and modernization work in Wayland's public housing.  Raskin also helped create Wayland Housing Associates, one of the first local housing authority sponsored non-profit development corporations. Raskin has also represented affordable housing interests on Wayland’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC) when it voted to provide $1.2 million to support the development of the former NIKE missile site into a 16-unit affordable housing development.

Val Foster, Harwich and Chatham Housing Authority - Foster has wide experience on the Cape as executive director of the Chatham Housing Authority and both the commissioner and a trustee of the Dennis Housing Authority. She has also been chair of the Dennis Municipal Affordable Housing Trust and served a five-year term on the Dennis Community Preservation Committee (CPC).   Highlights of Foster’s work include the construction of 50 units of affordable housing in Chatham, running a successful Rent-to-Homeownership Program, running a Town Rental Assistance Program for the past seven years, and maintaining a First Time Home Buyer Program in both Harwich and Chatham.

Mayor Clare Higgins, Northampton - As a city councilor and then mayor, Higgins is credited with creating an environment in which affordable housing advocates are heard and have support.  Mayor Higgins was instrumental in the creation of the 10-year “All Road Lead Home: The Pioneer Valley’s Plan to End Homelessness.”  Mayor Higgins has been heralded for her ability to understand the nuances and intricacies of the housing world, especially as it relates to poverty, domestic violence, education, job training, and economic development.

2012

Jo-Ann Howe, Executive Director, Sudbury Housing Authority -  Known as a do-it-all executive director who, if not in her office, might be found cleaning a vacant unit, planting flowers or talking to a resident about how to make ends meet. A lifelong resident of Sudbury, she spent nearly 30 years at the housing authority making sure people had an affordable place to live. Among her achievements: convincing the town to OK the construction of 12 affordable rental homes on town-owned land and replacing four dilapidated single-family homes into 10 affordable rental units.

Town of Williamstown - Awarded to the town for its efforts to find homes for residents after 11 inches of rain from Hurricane Irene caused the Hoosic River to flood and destroy a mobile home park with 150 homes. 

Don Dickinson, Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod - After retiring to the Cape after a successful career as a phone company executive, Don Dickinson found a new calling at Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod. During his tenure  as volunteer director of land acquisition from 1997 to 2011, Habitat purchased land or properties in 14 communities and constructed 75 homes, including 4-, 13- and 16-unit subdivisions.

2013

Easthampton Mayor Michael Tauznik - Tauznik was recognized for supporting city groups in creating more affordable housing. One example is his support of a plan to turn the former Easthampton Dye Works into 50 affordable rental homes and his support of the city’s decision to put $200,000 in CPA funds toward the project.  Tauznik also backed a Ch. 40B permit and $200,000 in CPA funds to support Parsons Village, a 38-unit affordable housing development. A down-to-earth leader, Tautznik's said the key to his success is "finding the right people and then get out of the way.” 

Nancy Tavernier, Acton Community Housing Corp. - As as select board member and longtime member of the town's Community Housing Corporation, Tavernier has been involved in supporting almost every affordable housing initiative in the town. Her achievements include overseeing a 40B process that resulted in over 300 rental homes, creation of a down-payment assistance program and the use of town land for affordable housing. In 2022, a senior affordable housing development was named after her.

David Hedison, Chelmsford Housing Authority - He began working at the housing authority in high school. After college, he returned to CHA and became the youngest executive director in the nation at age 24.  In 20 years, his affiliated nonprofit has developed 200 new homes, increasing the number of homes his housing authority manages to over 800. Hedison has also focused on providing supportive services through the creation of the nonprofit called CHOICE, whose mission is to better the lives of all people served by the housing authority. “We’re not just about bricks and mortar,” says Hedison. “We’re about taking care of the whole person.”

2014

Town of Amherst - Amherst was recognized for adopting and utilizing a variety of affordable housing tools to create more housing. In one town meeting, voters OK'd an accessory dwelling bylaw, a housing trust and $1.25 million in local funds to support the preservation of 41 affordable units. It's supply of affordable housing has been above 10 percent since 1988 and in 2014 it celebrated the grand opening of the 42-unit Olympia Oaks mixed-income development, It has also provided the housing authority with local funds to maintain its units.

Mary Waygan, Town of Yarmouth - As the town's administrative assistant in its community development office, Waygan has carved a niche for herself as the town's go-to person on affordable housing. She monitors housing trust and federal block grant funds, manages a by-down program that rehabbed and sold 13 homes, established a regional "ready renter list" and helps oversee the town's motel redevelopment program, which encourages owners to add affordable homes or convert their properties to affordable housing. 

2015

John Suhrbier, community volunteer, Winchester - To build affordable housing, you don't just need money, you also need local voices who will do their homework and stand up at public meetings. John Surhbier has been doing that for years. He helped form the Winchester Interfaith Housing Corporation, he has been a member of the  housing authority board and as a member of the Winchester Housing Partnership. “Seniors and young people are being priced out,” he said. “I never thought of myself as a community organizer but that’s what you’ve got to be if you want to get anything done.”

Michelle Jarusiewicz, Provinctown - As the town's community housing specialist, Michelle Jarusiewicz has won praise for her for her dedication, tenacity, ability to work with others, knowledge of housing regulations and deep understanding of the community. In this role, she has helped the town develop new housing, put together a housing action plan, a program to help seniors fix their homes and convinced the town to use 60 percent of its Community Preservation Act funds on housing, including on its rental assistance program.

Chris Pude, Westford Housing Authority - In her 27 years at the housing authority, Chris Pude wasn't just content managing existing units. The executive director knew the town's needs were greater and took it upon herself to manage all of the town's affordable housing activities. This sense of larger responsibility resulted in 100 new mixed-income apartments for families, seniors and people with disabilities. She also was a strong voice in supporting the use of surplus town land for housing, the adoption of the Community Preservation Act and a housing trust.

2016

Town of Needham - The town was recognized for its work which led to Town Meeting voters to approve a zoning change that would allow up to 250 apartments to be built in a red-hot Rt. 128 commercial zone known as Needham Crossing. The town did this even though its supply of affordable housing had gone over 10 percent the year before. 

Paul Ruchinskas, Cape Cod Commission - For 13 years, Paul Ruchinskas was the housing specialist for the Cape Cod Commission, the regional planning agency that serves 15 towns Cape and Islands towns. In this job, he awarded millions of dollars, but he did more than write checks. He was a staunch advocate who promoted and defended affordable housing and also helped scores of local officials, leaders and volunteers understand the intricacies of affordable housing.

Town of Concord - The town was honored for the housing it has created and for the dedication its citizens, local officials and many volunteer boards have exhibited through the years. The results of this focus include the use of Ch. 40B to permit over 500 units, approval of seven planned residential developments that added 67 units while preserving open space, and the preservation or creation of 100 units through its housing authority or nonprofit development corp.

Connie Kruger, Amherst - Kruger was honored not only for her work has a professional planner and town official, but for her role in creating MHP's Housing Institute for local officials and volunteers when she worked at MHP from 2006 to 2015. Kruger has spent her entire career helping communities support and create affordable housing as a municipal planner, statewide expert and on the Select Board in Amherst.

2017

Harborlight Community Partners - The Beverly-based regional nonprofit was honored for its development and advocacy for affordable housing on the North Shore. At the time of their award, recent efforts included the development of 26 supportive apartments in Salem for formerly homeless individuals and turning a former Rockport greenhouse site into 23 affordable homes. Harborlight's orgins date back to the 1960s when the First Baptist Church of Beverly began developing senior housing. It became Harborlight in 2009. Under the leadership of Andrew DeFranza, it now owns approximately 400 apartments in Beverly, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Marblehead, Peabody, Rockport, Salem and Wenham.

Town of Bedford - Under the leadership of Town Manager Rick Reed, the town has a three-decade record of working together to add housing. It was the first community in the state to adopt the Community Preservation Act, it's had a housing trust since 1994 and has used these tools to back numerous small affordable housing efforts through the years. When asked to explain the town’s secret, Reed said, “Early on, we took smaller steps. Then we built on it. Gradually, people didn’t see affordable housing as threatening anymore.”

South Shore Chamber of Commerce - The chamber was recognized for South Shore 2030, a comprehensive plan with stakeholders from all over the region developing recommendations on infrastructure, housing, business retention and growth, and community development. “The South Shore has some economic weaknesses,” said Chamber CEO Peter Forman in accepting the award. "We have to figure out a strategy that will get them out of the anti-growth suburban mindset.”

2018

City of Beverly - The city was honored for using various local tools - CPA, 40R, inclusionary zoning and a housing trust - to create and preserve affordable housing, a lot of it downtown and near its transit station. Recently efforts include creating a transit overlay district and a plan to enlarge 45 existing apartments at the downtown Y and add 24 more units.

Elizabeth DeMille Barnett, Carlisle - Barnett was honored for her 11 years as Housing Coordinator for the Town of Carlisle. During her tenure, she was a driving force in seeing two affordable housing efforts- the 26-unit Benfield Farms development for seniors and a nine-resident group for the disabled.

2019

Great Barrington - The town has distinguished itself as one of Western Massachusetts’ most active towns when it comes to providing land, zoning and funding for affordable housing. Voters in the town have consistently voted to  use CPA funds for housing and have also approved two Chapter 40R zoning districts to promote housing near its downtown. 

Keith Bergman, town official - Bergman was honored for his affordable housing accomplishments throughout his municipal career. He distinguished himself for getting affordable housing done in 17 years as Provincetown’s town manager and in 11 years as Littleton’s town administrator. He has also demonstrated strong leadership at the regional level on housing and climate, and as past president of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. 

City of Salem - The city and Mayor Kim Driscoll were recognized for its many affordable housing efforts and for its "Imagine Salem" initiative, which is described as an ongoing community conversation with residents, organizations and businesses about what they want Salem to look like when the city celebrates its 400th birthday in 2026. What it has learned from the feedback of 1,900 residents is that the city does not want to lose its diversity and that means creating housing at a variety of price points so people can remain in the city. 

Phil DeMartino, state Dept. of Housing and Community Development - Reliable. Helpful. Knowledgeable Patient. Responsive. Those are just some of the words used to describe DeMartino, the first DHCD staffer to receive an MHP Housing Hero Award. His official title is Senior Technical Assistance Coordinator but his real title is “Institutional Memory of DHCD.” His daily job is providing answers and guidance to a wide range of stakeholders ranging from developers, attorneys and consultants, local and state officials, reporters, frustrated residents and people who need affordable housing.