Social Service Siting Report–the gist

posted by Mike on October 10th, 2005

Here’s the gist of the “Mayor’s Social Service Task Force Report” for Worcester, Massachusetts.

The report first notes that “social service programs enjoy specific and broad protections under state and federal law.”

Then it goes on to make many recommendations, grouped into four categories (most emphasis is mine):

1. Best Practices

  • Notification: Agencies are encouraged to let “elected officials, neighbors, and purchasing state departments” know of their plans as early as possible when they’re considering buying a property and opening a social service program.
  • Openness of Process: “Everyone involved needs to agree to have a respectful, open discourse.”
  • Guarantees: Agencies should convince neighbors that the program won’t change without lots of conversation first. “Including local residents on advisory or governing bodies as well as posting bonds are suggestions for resolving this issue.” (If a bond is posted, it “will be collected if the facility is not operated according to plan. . . .”)

The report outlines “a model for siting social service residential programs” which I won’t quote here.

From what I’ve heard, sometimes agencies talk a lot with the neighbors before buying property and moving in, and sometimes they don’t. I can see how more communication is a good thing and avoids resentment and wild rumors. I can also see how retarded people and recovering addicts should not have to ask permission to live in a given neighborhood.

2. Recommendations for the Commonwealth

Many of these involve the commonwealth’s EOHHS (Executive Office of Health and Human Services) and the “Request for Responses” (RFR) process.

  • An agency responding to an EOHHS RFR will have to list all social service agencies within 1/2 mile of the proposed facility.
  • All RFR/contracts issued by EOHHS will require less than 8 people per residence.
  • To encourage communities to carry their fair share of the social service program burden, cities that have at least their fair share of people in programs will be recognized as “Caring and Responsible Communities.” I guess Worcester could put up signs with this slogan on it.
  • EOHHS will inventory the residential programs in the commonwealth.
  • The Department of Revenue’s Bureau of Local Assessment will “create a new exempt class code to identify the specific use of tax-exempt social service residential programs.

The main thing is that the commonwealth will have stricter guidelines on new programs and will keep more statistics on programs.

3. Recommendations for the City

Worcester is asked to appoint a Social Service Agency Liason, and to reform the PIP Shelter. I’ll quote all of these sections, with commentary.

“The City of Worcester will appoint a Social Service Agency Liason. This individual will be responsible for, but not limited to, the following:”

  1. “Communicate community needs and assessments with state agencies and local social service providers.”
  2. “Establish an inventory of all social service agency programs within the city. Assessors will properly classify each with the new code provided in I-D above.” (The BLA code.)
  3. “Once inventoried and properly codified, the liason will transmit each municipality’s list to the appropriate state agencies and local social service providers who need to submit information about other sites as part of a response to an RFR. The list will not be made available for other use.”
  4. “Social service agencies will provide an annual report/summary of all services they are providing within the City of Worcester. The liason will be responsible for receiving and updating this information.”
  5. “Social service agencies are requested to notify the liason if a particular residential program is changing its program at a specific site.”

When meeting with one Task Force member at a public meeting, Real Solutions got the impression that the Liason would be a sort of advocate for the social service agencies, helping them find appropriate locations for programs and facilitating conversations between agencies and neighborhood groups. The Liason position as outlined here is sketchy, and could just as easily be a gatekeeper (discouraging program siting) or a paper pusher, not involved in the siting issue.

There are three recommendations for the PIP shelter:

  1. “The Task Force recommends that the PIP Shelter run by South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) located at 701 Main Street downsize to a population of 50 individuals per night.”
  2. “The PIP shall relocate with the consent and advice of the City to a new location and cease shelter operations at 701 Main Street no later than June 30, 2007.”
  3. “The Mayor and City Manager shall appoint a regional committee within 60 days to work with SMOC to accomplish the objectives outlined above.”

These suggestions are similar to what SMOC has already planned for the PIP, they just give a timeline for action.

4. Recommendations for PILOT

PILOT is Payment In Lieu Of Taxes. The idea is that social service programs use city services, but don’t pay city taxes, so maybe they should pay something. The report notes: “It is recognized that any participation by social service agencies in a PILOT program is voluntary, since by federal and state statutes, nonprofit (501(c)(3)) organizations are excempt from payment of local taxes.”

The report suggests that Massachusetts should pay cities “$14.06 per $1,000 of the assessed value of all nonprofit social service agencies” and to pay more money in the form of an incentive program “similar to the affordable housing incentive program”.

The report suggests that Worcester should ask for a PILOT payment from the agencies, and suggests several strategies for doing this.

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