“We had all kinds of problems with the people, with the clientele,” Simmons said. “I don’t want to have that kind of riff-raff renting from me.”
So, Simmons hopes to transform the building into 18 affordable apartments for veterans in partnership with the nonprofit Home Advocates and Limitless Outreach, or HALO. There is one hitch, however.
Street-level apartments are not allowed in Canton’s central business district, and a requirement for veteran housing is that at least some of the rooms be handicapped accessible. The building doesn’t have an elevator, however, that would allow disabled veterans to easily reach upstairs apartments.
Rather than give up at the first snag, Simmons and Lisa Allen, who runs HALO, lobbied the town to change its development standards.
The change would permit street-level apartments in downtown Canton on a case-by-case basis, requiring special permission from the town. It would also set a 5,500-foot buffer around any structure with first-floor housing, which would limit the places and number of buildings with street-level apartments.
The ban on street-level housing downtown is aimed at preserving storefronts for shops. But this particular site doesn’t have a lot of potential as a store anyway.
“I think with the location of the building — it’s not going to be a really commercial place,” said Alderman Patrick Willis. “I think that sounds really good in my opinion.”
At its Jan. 8 meeting, Canton aldermen were amenable to the idea of a veteran housing facility.
“This is a very, very good plan,” said Alderman Ken Holland.
If everything goes as planned for Simmons and HALO, the new veteran housing facility could open within eight months or a year. The cost of renovations is estimated at $1 million to $2 million. The end result will be a two-level apartment building with 18 efficiency apartments just down the street from all the bare necessities. It will be a place where veterans can restart their lives.
“Most stories end. Most projects end. But when we complete the renovations and get veterans in there, that will be the beginning,” said Arlise Emerson, HALO’s grant writer.
Emerson said that HALO will look for grant funding as well as donations to help pay for the project.
Veterans can experience trouble finding homes and jobs after returning from war, making veteran-specific housing a necessity.
“This project is unique in nature,” Emerson said. “I am just excited that at least this will be one place they can go to.”
A public hearing on changing Canton’s development standards to allow for street-level housing will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 22 at Canton’s town hall.