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Homeless project in Waban gets $40,000 loan

Less than a week after Mayor Setti Warren of Newton announced he would block federal funding for a controversial homeless housing project in Waban, the public-private Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation announced it had approved a $40,000 loan to the developer.

“It’s good; it’s a vote of confidence in the project and in us,” said Jennifer Van Campen, executive director of Metro West Collaborative Development, which is developing the project, called Engine 6. “It helps us to continue moving forward.”

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The corporation had already approved a $15,000 loan, but on June 27 the board voted to increase the amount.

“This type of housing is a high priority for the Commonwealth,” the corporation’s executive director, Roger Herzog, said Monday. “Providing permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless is something that we need in many communities across the state, including Newton.”

Engine 6 would turn a historic firehouse on Beacon Street, currently in use as nonprofit office space, into housing units for nine formerly homeless people and one live-in staff member. The Pine Street Inn would manage the house.

Metro West estimated that the project would cost around $3.1 million, and had requested nearly $1.4 million in federal funds managed by the city in order to move forward. The Newton Housing Partnership and the city’s Planning and Development Board had voted to grant the money, and the request was set to go before the mayor for approval this past Tuesday after a public comment period.

But the idea of Engine 6 enraged some neighbors, who feared the home’s residents could endanger their children or aimlessly wander the streets causing trouble. Last Tuesday, Warren announced he would not grant funding because Newton needs more time to discuss the proposal. The city will hold workshops on affordable housing in the fall, and Warren said he was open to considering the project again at a later date.

Herzog said that though the board knew of Warren’s announcement when it voted to increase the loan, the decision to increase the grant was in the works for a while, and was not a direct response.

The $40,000 can be used for predevelopment costs, he said. Van Campen said the money would probably be used for environmental or architectural reviews.

Metro West has a purchase-and-sale agreement with the Hospice of the Good Shepherd to buy the firehouse, and the sale is scheduled to close Aug. 12. Despite Warren’s announcement, Metro West has vowed to press forward with the project.

A spokeswoman for the Pine Street Inn said early last week that without the support of the city, it could not move forward, but later said Pine Street was “leaving the door open” and would be happy to work with Newton and Metro West if the funding situation changed.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.
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