The Harvard Press, Posted: June 25, 2015
By: Joan Eliyesil
When Devens residents realized that one of their senior neighbors needed counseling a few years ago, they had no idea where to turn. Devens has no Council on Aging, which is typically where senior residents receive social services and referrals. The problem was eventually resolved, but it opened a debate on who should provide senior services to Devens. That debate has not yet ended, but for now, seniors are left with only one option: Call MassDevelopment.
Most towns in Massachusetts have a Council on Aging (COA), and small villages such as Devens are typically served by the larger town that the village is located in. But Devens straddles three towns, Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley. In addition, many of the services provided by a COA are paid for, at least in part, by the taxpayers of the town. Devens residents pay property taxes to MassDevelopment, which in turn contracts out for services such as police, fire, and road maintenance. But senior services are not contracted, and according to COA Director Debbie Thompson, Harvard’s Board of Selectmen does not want to provide taxpayer-funded COA services to Devens residents without some compensation from MassDevelopment. The problem is that MassDevelopment has yet to see enough demand to warrant contracting senior services. In a residential area that has existed for only 12 years and has a population of about 300, the demand for senior services has so far been almost nonexistent. Harvard currently has 31 seniors in Devens, and Ayer has 10. But the Grant Road development will add 124 homes and apartments to Devens, and homes will also be added to Adams Circle in the next few years. Shirley has no Devens residents yet, but the recent vote at Super Town Meeting to add senior residential use to the zoning of Shirley Growth District 1 will soon change that, with up to 120 units of senior housing.