The Best Western Hotel off Route 2 will house homeless families. Photo by Jennifer Lord Paluzzi

Concord awaits new families at Best Western

By Jesse Floyd Correspondent
February 15, 2023

As the deadline for moving homeless families into the Best Western draws closer, questions continue to swirl.

On the social media site NextDoor, questions run the gamut. Some are seeking clarity on when and how many families will be moved in. Others question the impact on local services, such as schools.

“What is the impact on schools? Will the schools become overcrowded? Will the town be providing other benefits as well? Imagine that we have so many people in Actual Need, while CMS is taking the position $75 more means nothing,” writes one person, identified as Lissa M.

In an email, Communications Manager Donna McIntosh said the town first met with the state Jan. 31. That meeting, attended by representatives of the town and the schools, has been the only meeting to date and McIntosh is unaware of plans for more meetings.

According to McIntosh, there have been several inquiries about helping the families when they are moved in.

“We know the community to be generous and want to direct that goodwill into something that is thoughtful, well-planned and welcome,” she wrote.

Town Manager Kerry LaFleur has developed an FAQ to “address questions raised by the emergency shelter program,” among other points. 

“DHCD (Department of Housing and Community Development) and the Best Western are working with current long-term residents at the Best Western to resolve housing issues,” LaFleur said at a Select Board meeting this week. “The Town is prepared to provide support for individuals who cannot reach a satisfactory solution with the DHCD and Best Western. No one currently at the Best Western will be left unhoused by the DHCD’s plan.” 

State Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, has been hearing from constituents in Concord, concerned and curious alike.

“The general feedback I’m getting is cautiously supportive of the effort,” Barrett said. “I’ve been able to reassure them that DHCD is not a faceless bureaucracy that is acting capriciously.”

Barrett pointed out the Best Western near the Route 2 rotary represents a compromise for housing families. There is some access to kitchen facilities, for example. Also, families won’t share bathrooms, as they would in a shelter. There is also access to good schools and some transportation.

“This is not a first choice, and it’s not viewed as a long-term solution, but the state is at the point of needing some fallback options for these families,” he said.

State Rep. Simon Cataldo, D-Concord, weighed in, saying he is keeping tabs on the matter and responding to constituents.

Access to housing is a recurring topic on the legislative agenda, Barrett said. The state has been generous in addressing the housing issue in the past, and that will continue, he said.

Massachusetts, particularly eastern Massachusetts, is, in a way, a victim of its own success. The economy is robust, drawing people to the area, spiking demand — and the cost — of the limited housing available, Barrett said.

On the website, Massachusetts is listed as having the third-highest rent in the nation, with a two-bedroom apartment in western Worcester county averaging $976 a month; the same apartment costs, on average, $2,336 in the Concord area.

Many rentals require a first/last and security deposit arrangement, often out of reach for struggling families.

According to a WGBH story, published in late January, Gov. Maura Healey is moving to provide more cash to the emergency shelter program, filing a $282 million supplemental spending bill. Of that, $85 million is earmarked for shelters.

The state has signed a lease for 105 rooms at Best Western, starting March 1 but there will not be a sudden influx of families on that date. Rather, the rooms will be filled as needed with the hope there won’t be a need for all 105.