Statement Regarding Westfield Senior Housing Center False Claim
October 8, 2021
You may have heard the false claim by the Westfield Senior Housing Center (WSHC) that the Town of Westfield is not negotiating in good faith regarding renewal of leases on their two buildings located on Town property, which expire in 2026. We’d first like to provide assurances to the residents that these false insinuations are baseless, and the Town is fully committed to the continuation of their senior affordable housing indefinitely.
For nearly fifty years, the Town has leased several acres of its property on Boynton Avenue to two non-profit entities, Building I and Building II, which comprise WSHC. Their responsibility was to construct and maintain two buildings that house approximately 300 low and moderate income units for senior citizens, a mission that we fully support.
Their lease arrangement with the Town is atypical, with payment based on a percentage of revenue rather than a fixed monthly amount. Recently, in the midst of lease renewal discussions initiated by WSHC’s Board, it was discovered that WSHC has been misrepresenting what they owe and is in default on payments to the Town since at least 1996, if not earlier. To be clear, the WSHC’s own publicly available audited financial statements acknowledge that WSHC owes at least $1.7MM to the Town through 2019, and that’s only for Building II. The WSHC continues to be behind in reporting requirements and still has not provided their 2020 audited financial statements to determine additional amounts owed, in spite of repeated requests.
The WSHC is not struggling financially. To the contrary, the Building I investment account alone contains at least $20MM in available assets that can and should be used to pay the money they owe the Town.
The Town remains committed to its senior citizens and affordable housing obligations —whether the facility continues to be operated by the existing management or another entity going forward. We also have a fiduciary duty to resident taxpayers and will not be pressured by false accusations to discount past or future amounts due.
The Town has also identified additional concerns regarding the WSHC Executive Board’s governance practices, which are not compliant with non-profit Board best practices. As WSHC’s landlord, we are insisting on full compliance with governance best practices and having Town voting representation on their Board, as opposed to the liaison that is currently allowed.
To be perfectly clear, none—not a single one—of the tenants in the facility are in jeopardy of being evicted or paying higher rents as a result of this dispute. The current lease is in effect for five more years, and there is no plan whatsoever to convert these facilities into “luxury condos,” as WSHC now falsely contends. Just like the Town, the residents of WSHC also have rights and need answers. This administration has made supporting the Town’s senior citizen population a priority, and any notion that these residents will be displaced is categorically untrue and can only be construed as underhanded politics.
It’s unfortunate that a tenant with whom the Town has had a close relationship for more than 45 years has chosen to use scare tactics and fear-mongering through online petitions and media ads in an attempt to gain leverage before a political election—particularly when there are five years remaining in the lease term and their own publicly available audited financial statements acknowledge these payment obligations to the Town. To reiterate, WSHC admits that it owes Westfield $1.7 million and has $1.7 million to pay, but is still attempting to extort the Town into accepting less than that which it is entitled to receive.
We had been engaged in a mutually agreed upon mediation process which we have now terminated in light of their recent actions. For background and context on our claims, you can read our mediation statement, as well as the lease documents, financial agreement, and audited financial statements at westfieldnj.gov/WSHC
The Town looks forward to reaching a resolution that includes WSHC fulfilling its long-neglected financial obligations, while providing further enhancements to the affordable senior housing accommodations on the property for decades to come, even if it is necessary to find a different operator with whom the Town can have a more mutually beneficial relationship.
We are attempting to arrange a Town Hall meeting with the WSHC residents to address any concerns directly. We hope the WSHC Board will cooperate and allow us to do so.
Mayor Shelley Brindle
Councilwoman Linda Habgood, Chair, Finance Policy Committee
Councilman Mark Parmelee, Chair, Code Review & Town Property Committee