SMOC says town misled feds in attempt to get grant money

SMOC says town misled feds in attempt to get grant money Saturday, April 19, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- In the latest battle of the legal war between the South Middlesex Opportunity Council and the town, SMOC Executive Director James Cuddy alleges the town misled the federal government in an attempt to secure grant money.

Cuddy, in an affidavit responding to the defendants' attempts to dismiss the case, wrote that the town provided false information to the federal government when applying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Community Development Block Grant funding last fall.

Specifically, Cuddy wrote the town claimed it was working with SMOC to end homelessness and deal with the special needs of the disabled.

He disagreed with such an assertion.

On Oct. 24, 2007, SMOC, a nonprofit organization that serves the homeless and people with addictions, filed a federal lawsuit against the town, town officials and certain residents, claiming they coordinated an effort to stymie expansion of SMOC's programming.

Specifically, an attempt to open Larry's Place, a veterans' shelter, and plans to move the Sage House Program, a residential drug treatment program, were delayed, according to court documents.

SMOC is seeking compensatory damages, attorneys fees and punitive damages incurred from delays and the subsequent court case.

In February the defendants filed motions asking a judge to dismiss the case.

Jeff Robbins, a lawyer representing the town in the case, said yesterday "the claims against town officials were deficient."

In a letter dated March 10, the U.S. Department of Justice notified the town an investigation was opened into land use in Framingham. SMOC welcomed the development, while Robbins, at the time, said the department "was making no allegations of any kind."

Now, in a 64-page statement, Cuddy claims town officials were talking out of both sides of their mouths, telling HUD they would work to "affirmatively further fair housing in Framingham" while, Cuddy writes, members of the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board and Town Meeting "were working to block SMOC's efforts to provide housing to the disabled through its Sage House and Larry's Place projects."

Robbins calls Cuddy's claims "pure nonsense."

Of SMOC's legal case, he said there is "a great deal of rhetoric and very little substance.

Cuddy cites the town's Annual Action Plan submitted to HUD last September as evidence of his allegations. The report states SMOC "will be adding to the stock of transitional housing facilities for the homeless with assistance from a variety of public and private sources."

The report also said SMOC appeared before the Planning Board for the Larry's Place project between July 2006 and July 2007 for site plan review, Cuddy said in the affidavit. That information is false, Cuddy said in his statement.

SMOC is one of many social service organizations in town - the presence of which has drawn the ire of some residents.

From 1990 to 2006 the town experienced a significant increase in social service programming, according to the final report of the Social Service PILOT and Comparative Impact Study Committee, released in May 2006. The report states the number of social service organizations has grown from 14 to 40 in that time period, while the number of sites under social service management increased 600 percent during that 10-year period. The report calculates the town waived a levy of $515,751 on these tax-exempt properties.

This increase in social services was met with opposition in the community.

In May 2005, an organization called Stop Tax Exempt Private Property Sprawl was formed to stop what some saw as a social service explosion in Framingham, wrote James Hanrahan, a lawyer who sits on SMOC's board, in an affidavit.

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