Plan to convert funeral home, adjacent buildings into 'sober homes' meets resistance in Lower Mills

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Mar. 29, 2012

The former Molloys funeral home: One of four buildings along Washington Street included in the proposal.The former Molloys funeral home: One of four buildings along Washington Street included in the proposal.The proposed housing of 28 sober veterans in the former Molloy funeral home and three adjacent properties on Washington Street became the subject of a heated debate at a Wednesday night meeting of the Lower Mills Merchants Association.

With some expressing fear that the property could be turned into a rooming house filled with transients, neighborhood business owners hit the Molloys and a representative of an investors’ association leasing the property with a myriad of questions: How do they intend to monitor the tenants? What kind of support services will the tenants receive? How will they be referred to the housing?

“We want to provide a sober community,” said John Ingram, director of operations at the Eastern Massachusetts Real Estate Investors Association.

Space in the former funeral home could be used for job training and a visiting psychiatric nurse if necessary, he added.

“This is a work-in-progress,” he said. “We’ve just taken the property over.”

Business owners and residents remained skeptical.

“They just didn’t have the answers we were looking for,” Anthony Paciulli, head of Meetinghouse Bank, said after the meeting, held at the Elizabeth Seton Academy. “It was ‘work-in-progress,’ ‘trust us,’ ‘give us a chance,’ but you never got a definitive answer.”

Ingram started leasing the Molloy property – four buildings with parking – in January. The lease carries a 3-year term, with an option to buy the 1.15-acre property, which includes 7 units total.

The units would be leased for “north of $2,500” a month, he said.

Four tenants already live in one of the units, but Ingram said he did not know if they were veterans, since he doesn’t handle that. After the meeting, he told the Reporter most of them were veterans.

The parlor area of the funeral home could be turned into commercial space. Earlier this month, city inspectors shut down some refurbishment work in the funeral home because workers did not have the proper permit.

The Dolan Funeral Home is assuming the Molloys’ funeral business.

Ingram said his group was interested in providing a community requiring residents to “live a sober life.”

But neighborhood residents and business owners questioned how the concept would work.

“How can you do that legally,” asked Michael Skillin, head of the Lower Mills Civic Association, which will likely have its own meeting focused on the property in the future. “How can you throw me out for drinking?”

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry said the Molloys should have touched base with the community and merchants earlier. (Rep. Forry is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.)

“It’s a community model that didn’t engage the community,” said City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, a Dorchester resident who also attended the merchants’ meeting.

Pressley also asked what kind of benchmarks will be in place, what kind accountability measures the place will have and how the veterans will be referred to the housing.

Ingram said the referrals will come through the real estate association, which has about 350 members, and many are veterans or have family members who are veterans. There will be an on-site manager eventually, he said.

“We’ve had this place two months,” Ingram said.

The discussion grew heated at one point. Richard O’Mara, owner of Cedar Grove Gardens, said the Molloys “shortchanged this community” and they “cashed out.”

“You two ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he said to Joseph and Janice Molloy.

Joseph Molloy pushed back, saying they unsuccessfully attempted to sell the property for $2.2 million.

When asked by the merchants whether Ingram has an option to buy in the lease, Molloy could not provide an answer. Ingram admitted that he did.

“I can feel the apprehension in the room,” Joseph Molloy said. “It seems to be a good concept.”

“They want to provide housing for veterans,” Janice Molloy said. “That is what we bought into.”

Joseph Molloy’s father started the funeral home in the 1950s. “I think my mother and father would be proud,” he said.

O’Mara apologized for his earlier remarks and the two shook hands afterwards.

“I know your father was a dedicated community person,” O’Mara said.