The Arlington Housing Authority discussed grant money, upcoming resources for seniors, a contract with a collection agency and meetings with tenants at its Nov. 16 regular board meeting in the Winslow Towers Community Room.
During the updates at the beginning of the meeting, Executive Director Jack Nagle said four units have been successfully leased out, and three more offers are in progress at Chestnut Manor following last January's fatal fire, which damaged 18 units.
“We are committed to filling these units as soon as possible,” Nagle said.
He also noted the electrical shutdown set for Chestnut Manor the following day, Nov. 17, part of the testing for the electrical-panel upgrades.
All 132 units at Winslow Towers are to receive air-source heat pumps. The aim is to save the AHA money and move to more energy-efficient technologies. Replacements have begun, with continued updates to residents about their progress. Nagle encourages any residents with questions to reach out.
The board is waiting for a start date on weatherization work at Menotomy Manor and will keep residents updated and try to get it scheduled as soon as possible.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) staff conducted site evaluations at two locations and are working to determine where to build a housing project dedicated to special-needs individuals under Chapter 689. The area in front of Chestnut Manor, at 54 Medford St. is one recommended location from the DHCD staff architects, but an official recommendation is expected soon.
Nagle reports that the authority has found “real success” in the monthly maintenance meetings, where the board has been meeting with local tenant organizations at their development locations.
“While DHCD mandates a quarterly meeting and recommends that it actually last at least a half an hour, we focus on having an hour meeting at each location,” Nagle said. “We feel that this has improved communication and helped us identify and address issues before they grow. It has also been a great tool for us to communicate upcoming events and projects while receiving feedback.”
In the coming months, they hope to create meetings uniting different tenant organizations upon the Cusack Terrace association’s request to create bonds and develop a stronger connection.
“We understand that that's a very difficult job and I think it's a great idea and we'll definitely support that,” Nagle said.
The Arlington Council on Aging is scheduling blood pressure and diabetes screening and education services, and the Arlington Fire Department expects to have fire-safety sessions in the coming month. The housing authority also ordered more Covid-19 test kits for residents and hope they will arrive soon.
Nagle said tree lightings and holiday-themed events are planned at the developments through resident services.
Also in the holiday spirit, the Holiday Help Program, run by the Arlington Department of Health and Human Services and seeks to help lower-income families by buying gifts for their children, is expected to receive a donation from the authority. Nagle said that in years past the authority donated $1,000, and he recommended a donation of the same amount this year. The board approved it unanimously.
$100,000 transfer OK'd
Richard Conlon, the accountant for the AHA, went over the finances for the year. He recommends that the board move $100,000 from the tenant-services' account to the affordable-housing program to help them buy future developments, which the board approved unanimously.
Conlon said spending included new computers, kitchen appliances, floor scrubbers, cameras, fire alarms, heat pumps, elevator repairs and extermination work.
“This year we had a very good year,” Conlon said, specifically regarding the money made on Section 8 affordable housing.
Next year will be the 75th anniversary of the Arlington Housing Authority, and officials are planning some exciting events for the year. They are considering making a banner, changing the AHA logo and digging out some old photos.
The authority received grants from the state and officially approved them in a unanimous vote during the meeting. They accepted $748,432 from DHCD, specifically funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed in March 2021.
The money was requested to upgrade electric panels, some of them at Chestnut Manor. The projects are all in development right now, but Nagle said the AHS is working with electrical engineers and that the goal is “to start the project as soon as possible.”
The authority accepted $906,131 in ARPA money from the state. The money has already been allocated to projects in need and helps to offset costs of projects that increased in price because of supply-chain issues during the pandemic. The board again voted unanimously in favor of accepting the money.
The board also voted unanimously to approve an application for funding for the replacement of stoves in Menotomy Manor to make them electric in order to comply with federal and state regulations and move toward a carbon-neutral future. The board requested at least $140,000 for that purpose, and the board expects to hear back on a rolling basis, which could take any amount of time depending on funding availability.
Collection agreement discussed, passed
One point of contention in the meeting was the approval of a collection agreement with Assurant Recovery Solutions. Board member Jo Anne Preston expressed concerns about employing an agency to collect money from residents, saying that not only would it take money from AHA but also could treat residents with disrespect and hassle them.
Nagle said that the intent of the agreement is to pursue residents that have vacated who did not pay all funds, and the AHA wants to use the collection agency to do that. It will not apply to current residents, only former residents who still owe money. Committee Chair Brian Connor describes it as an “open agreement,” where management tells the firm from whom to collect.
He said it would not cost AHA anything directly; the authority gets part of the fee if the company is able to successfully collect money from former residents. According to a later email from Nagle, even if Assurant is unable to collect any money from former residents, the AHA does not have to pay them.
“We’re only going to go after the people who leave and don’t live here anymore but owe us a balance,” Connor said.
At the meeting, Preston then spoke about how the residents are low income and need resources to help them rather than an agency coming after them. Mental illness, lost jobs or other factors could contribute to a person's inability to pay, and Preston believes that a collection agency is not an effective solution.
Connors recognized her arguments but said that the board recently wrote off $27,000, which he said is “a lot of money,” because of people who left and did not pay.
“We do have a duty to try and collect monies that are owed; we have that fiduciary duty,” Connor said.
Preston proposed an amendment to clarify that only former tenants will be the targets of collection agencies, but her amendment died because of a lack of a second to support it. She also proposed that an agreement with the collection agency be done away with completely. Despite Preston’s protests, the board approved the agreement, as Connors, Vice Chair Gaar Talanian and Treasurer Nicholas Mitropoulos all voted to approve.
In a later email, Connors clarified that the AHA has been using collection agencies for years and that in this meeting, Nagle wanted to change the collection agency to Assurant Recovery Solutions, which, according to Connors, is not an unusual thing for the board to do. The issue of tenants leaving with standing balances is “not new,” and their practice of collection agencies is still limited to residents who leave, not for current residents.
Another attendee, R. Michael Crescitelli spoke about how, as “glorified landlords,” the board needs to help him deal with a neighbor who is too loud.
Connor said that it is a “delicate issue” and that he will speak further with him after the meeting.
The representatives from the Menotomy Manor Tenant Association and the board got into a discussion regarding whether Girl Scout Troops could use a certain space, the board said that without going through the proper steps, it could be a liability issue.
The next AHA meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21.
This news summary by YourArlington intern Renee Abbott, a journalism student at Northeastern University, was published Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, and updated Nov. 24, to include a vote.
This reporting demonstrates your donations at work to support democracy here.YourArlington is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.Your contributions are tax-deductible. Donate here >>
FACEBOOK BOX: To see all images, click the PHOTOS link just below