Local officials from Winchester, Provincetown and Westford were recognized with MHP Housing Hero Awards at MHP’s ninth annual Housing Institute. Each year, an awards luncheon is held to recognize local officials for their outstanding work in advocating for affordable housing in their communities.

This year’s 2015 Housing Hero Award in the community volunteer category goes to John Suhrbier, chair of the Winchester Housing Partnership Board.

The following are the Massachusetts Housing Hero remarks on June 11 made by Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay, Massachusetts Undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development, about John.

To build affordable housing, you need more than money. You also need local voices who will do their homework and stand up at public meetings. John Suhrbier is one of those voices.

Suhrbier has been speaking his mind about affordable housing in Winchester for a long time. He did it when he helped the town form the Winchester Interfaith Housing Corporation, which converted four two-family homes to affordable apartments in the 1970s. He did it when he was on the Housing Authority board in the 1980s. He’s been doing it since 1995 as a member of the Winchester Housing Partnership.

Here’s one example. In March 2015, the town’s Planning Board held a public discussion to drum up support for a Town Meeting proposal that would amend downtown zoning to allow residential units on upper floors. At this meeting, Suhrbier introduced supporting facts and figures about the short supply of affordable housing in Winchester. He also said this: “Winchester has become an economically-gated community.”

The local newspaper led its meeting story with Suhrbier’s quote. One month later, Town Meeting voted 136-9 to allow residential units on upper floors and to require that 10 percent of them be affordable.

Four-term Planning Board member and former Selectwoman Betsy Cregger had this to say about Suhrbier’s many years of contributions to the town:

“John is an ever-present reminder of the need for affordable housing. He does his research and comes to meetings with facts. He makes it easier to make the case for housing.”

Here’s another example. Two years ago, he attended this very Housing Institute and heard about MHP’s new ONE Mortgage Program for lower-income first-time buyers. He asked for some marketing materials and brought them to local banks. Winchester Co-Operative Bank signed up and ended up being the first bank to do a ONE Mortgage loan. The bank credits Suhrbier with making them aware of ONE Mortgage.

An MIT graduate and transportation consultant, Suhrbier said he became interested in local housing issues through his understanding of how highway projects can impact communities.

Now retired, he can devote more time to affordable housing. He loves doing it but he worries about Winchester’s longtime resistance to apartments and affordable housing and how it’s hard to buy a home for under a million.

“Seniors and young people are being priced out,” he said. “I never thought of myself as a community organizer but that’s what you’ve got to be if you want to get anything done.”

That’s why John Suhrbier is an MHP Housing Hero.
Congratulations, John! The Network is grateful to you for your many years as a Board member and Chair of the Finance Committee successfully guiding us through financial shoals and keeping us aware of the housing situation in Winchester as we build inclusive community.