October 16, 2023
• Three-quarters of a century on, the Needham Housing Authority is still committed to its mission of providing affordable and safe housing.
The Needham Housing Authority celebrated its 75th anniversary — or “birthday party,” as Board of Commissioners Chair Reg Foster put it — with residents, current and former commissioners and community members Thursday night.
Born out of a Special Town Meeting in May 1948, the NHA has housed at least 2,000 families, seniors and disabled residents, who have lived in “decent, safe and comfortable” housing they can afford, Foster said.
It hasn’t always been easy to provide that housing. Since its founding, Foster said the organization has endured a number of challenges, including weathering two hurricanes, a $1.2 million roof replacement at Seabeds Way after a 2015 snowstorm, employee unionization efforts and a global pandemic.
Under the leadership of 16 executive directors and ownership of more than 400 units, the NHA has a proven “track record” of social services, Foster said. The commemorative event recognized the organization’s role in the town’s history and its mission to provide for the community, he added.
“The Housing Authority [is] a very important part of town,” he said in an interview, “and something that has been quietly, year after year, providing this incredible benefit to our residents, our tenants and, by extension to the residents, the citizens of the town of Needham.”
The anniversary marks a special moment, both for the organization and Executive Director Cheryl Gosmon. She lived at NHA-owned Captain Robert Cook Drive for 13 years, from 1993 to 2006, before moving into a condo on St. Mary’s Street.
Gosmon reflected on the NHA’s history, starting with 181 applications for two- and three-bedroom homes in the High Rock Street area in 1948, intended to provide housing to returning veterans from World War II. At the time, rent was set at around $35 a month, Gosmon said, and although prices have risen significantly since, Gosmon reiterated the NHA’s commitment to affordability.
“Today, Needham Housing Authority owns 419 units of federal, state and Section Eight units,” Gosmon said. “We serve over 741 residents who received services from an amazing and kind and caring team… Thank you residents. We will continue to do our best to provide good customer service and to meet your needs every day.”
Affordable housing is designed as transitional housing, making Gosmon’s story and rise to leadership aspirational, said Jessica Reese, president of the tenants association of Seabeds and Cook.
As she’s had more kids, Reese said NHA has moved her up from two-bedroom into a three- and now a four-bedroom. With regular landlords, bigger units are never a guarantee, Reese said, but she’s “still a priority” for the NHA.
Living at Seabeds provides safety for her and her children, she said, and tenants are enthusiastic about the future redevelopment projects — in its 2019 master plan, the NHA stated it intends to modernize the 76 units at Cook’s Bridge after the upcoming Linden/Chambers renovation is complete.
“We’re looking forward towards the rebuild,” Reese said. “And I’m hoping that that will bring more people together in our own community, but also within the Needham community as well, because we’ll need help.”
Foster also acknowledged the critical need for housing of all types in the midst of a statewide crisis. The NHA aims to do their part in mitigating that crisis by addressing the “lower end of the socio-economic ladder,” Foster said.
“If you know anything about the basic fundamental needs of human beings, one of them is shelter, and another one is security,” Foster said. “The higher levels of need really can’t be fulfilled if you don’t have… those basics in place.”
Jim Burke, who lives at Linden/Chambers, moved into his unit in 2007 after doctors discovered melanoma in his left eye. Burke said his health complications took a toll on his career, leaving him unable to work. He lived on South Street before he was approved to move into his apartment at Linden.
“I’m thankful to get a roof over my head,” Burke said.
“I do think there is a culture in Massachusetts and in Needham to take care of our own,” Select Board Vice Chair Kevin Keane said after attending the ceremony. During his campaign, Keane said residents expressed feeling shame and stigma around living in affordable housing units. With upgrading the facilities, Keane said he hopes residents’ quality of life will improve. Congratulating them on the milestone anniversary, he said hopes the NHA continues in its mission and does so smoothly.
Foster considers there to be “no better friend of the Needham Housing Authority and public housing” than state Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham, who also attended the ceremony. Her partnership has allowed the NHA to rebuild and preserve its properties, Foster said.
Garlick also voiced her admiration for the agency and the work it has accomplished in an interview.
“I truly celebrate the Needham Housing Authority as part of our community, their residents as our friends and neighbors and the work of the commissioners in the past and future to create affordable housing opportunities,” Garlick said.