Nine months after a ghastly fire at Chestnut Manor claimed a resident’s life and caused severe damage to the affordable-housing residence, the Arlington Housing Authority received an encouraging update on the property’s status at its monthly housing board meeting Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Chestnut Manor is a seven-story, 100-unit high-rise development for eldery and disabled residents on Medford Street, and one of the five properties currently operated by the AHA.
AHA Executive Director Jack Nagle said that repairs to the building’s 18 damaged units — which have all been unoccupied since the fire in January — are finally complete and ready to be leased to tenants beginning Nov. 1.
The reopening date is two months ahead of the initial Jan. 1, 2023, timeline the AHA had targeted to start leasing the units again.
“As you may remember, these units were supposed to be brought back online in January, so we’re well ahead of schedule. And with the current affordable housing crisis, this is a huge victory,” Nagle said.
Nagle said at the June 16 board meeting that the 18 units were each receiving brand-new kitchens and flooring, in addition to replacing the drywall.
With the units set to reopen next week, AHA staff are working to find qualified tenants to fill the renovated apartments. “Staff are working really hard to get those individuals and other applicants leased up so we’ll be able to fill those units effective 11/1,” he said.
Family Self-Sufficiency, resident services' funding boosts
The housing authority board voted to approve the Family Self-Sufficiency grant for the next two years. The AHA is requesting $93,000 next year and $97,000 the following year — a major increase from last year’s $74,000 grant.
The FSS grant helps facilitate access to education and training resources for residents and families in public housing, and it encourages them to enter the workforce and earn a sustainable income.
“The great thing about the grant this year is that instead of only applying for one year, we’re going to be able to apply for two years at once, which will definitely help us next year,” Nagle said. “And they allowed us to build in a 5 percent raise for next year.”
He also said that a new FSS coordinator, Sarah Pelayo, is to begin her role next week.
In addition to the FSS grant, the board also approved funding for the resident services coordinator for the next four years.
“We’ve been extremely grateful for this position. It’s really helped us better engage with the residents, break barriers and really help them better find resources,” Nagle said.
Like the FSS grant, the resident services coordinator position will also see an uptick in allocated funds for upcoming years. With the additional money, Nagle said, he hopes to increase the role from 18 hours per week to 26 hours per week.
“It’s going to allow us to increase the salary portion by $15,000, which is going to allow us to increase the hours for the resident-services coordinator, which is going to help the residents a lot,” he said.
Window replacements in works at Menotomy
The AHA received more than $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds from the town of Arlington, as part of the $1.9 trillion of federal Covid-19 relief funds distributed nationwide.
However, the funding must be used entirely by the end of 2024 — putting pressure on the AHA to move quickly in allocating and using the additional money. Among the projects receiving the ARPA funds is window replacements at Menotomy Manor, a low-rise family housing development managed by the AHA near Somerville. Completed in 1952, it's the oldest property managed by the AHA.
“We continue to be encouraged that the window replacement project is on schedule,” Nagle said. “The draft of the study has been completed, and it shows a pathway for the AHA which includes the window replacement project. We are waiting for stakeholders and other agencies that helped with the draft to finish providing feedback for the study -- and hope to provide a finished report fairly soon.”
Hauser fire alarm project takes next step
The housing board approved an $819,000 payment to Jupiter Electric to begin work on the fire alarm upgrade project at the Robert Houser Memorial Building, an elderly-living residence operated by the AHA. The Hauser building is an 144-unit eight-story high-rise located within the Drake Village complex in Arlington Heights.
“We’re very excited to move forward with this very important project,” Nagle said.
Board encourages residents to speak up about maintenance issues
During the public comment portion of the board meeting, Linda Varone, a Chestnut Manor resident, spoke of repeated issues with the dryer machine beeping excessively. She said that despite maintenance coming to fix the malfunctioning machine, the issue has persisted.
In response, Brian Connor, the chair of the authority board, said that, for all maintenance issues at AHA-managed properties, it’s crucial for residents to feel comfortable to speak up.
“I think it's important that everyone knows this. We have a new system to report these things … make sure you call us again and again. [Otherwise], we think the problem is fixed,” Connor said. “So don’t hesitate to continue to call a bunch of times. Because that documents it and creates a path for us to monitor it and follow it up to get it fixed.”
The next regular board meeting of the AHA is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16. It is to be be held in person at Winslow Towers and also will be available to view remotely on Zoom.
July 27, 2022: Fatal Chestnut Manor fire ruled 'accidental'
This news summary by YourArlington intern Matty Wasserman, a journalism student at Northeastern University, was published Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.
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