Natick Housing Authority


Press

State releases Natick Housing Authority audit
by Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, February. 28, 2014

The state auditor’s office this week released its review of Natick Housing Authority operations between 2009 and 2011.

The audit, which looked at October 2009 through December 2011, found that the authority at that point was not filling vacant units quickly enough; had exceeded budgeted amounts for administrative salaries and did not accurately report that information to the state; and paid maintenance staff too much overtime and did not adequately use of the time clock.

Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt said all those items have been addressed or are being addressed. The authority is about to embark on a project to renovate 22 vacant apartments so they can be rented. The authority last year completed a similar large renovation project.

It also ensures now that it reports budgets accurately and that staff are paid the proper amount of overtime. A maintenance and modernization director now oversees the time clock, according to Merritt and the audit.

"We've definitely come a long way from then," she said.


Natick housing authority preparing for more renovations
by Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News,
January 30, 2014

The Housing Authority is gearing up to renovate almost two dozen more empty apartments, helping bring its vacancy rate "well under" a 5 percent goal, the authority’s director said.

Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt said the agency is planning on seeking bids in the coming weeks to renovate 15 elderly apartments and seven family units.

Merritt said the authority will received about $174,000 from the state for the project, which will allow the agency to rent those apartments again. She said she hopes to have the project complete in May.

Without the state funding, the authority would have had to tap into reserves to renovate the apartments, Merritt said.

A 5 percent vacancy rate is a target listed in a corrective action plan formed in 2011 following financial woes. The authority had struggled to lower its vacancy rate, but renovated more than two dozen apartments last year thanks in part to a prior state grant.

Work on those apartments included replacing kitchen cabinets and flooring and some painting, among other projects.

Carolynn Anderson, president of the Cedar Gardens Tenant Organization, said she is happy to see another round of renovations planned.

"We are pleased," Anderson said. "They already have done so much work in getting units renovated and filled. … People really appreciate having neighbors nearby."

Merritt said the authority is also in the process of hiring three maintenance workers, which will bring the authority back to its historical total of seven. The organization has been using temporary help, she said.

"There’s just a good air around here of cooperation and enthusiasm," Anderson said. "It just feels like the past has been taken care of and we’re living in a new paradigm."


Natick builds two apartments for the handicapped
by Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, December 14, 2013

Natick Housing AuthorityThe Housing Authority Friday highlighted two renovated handicapped-accessible apartments, celebrating cooperation between the authority and the town Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

"It’s those kinds of approaches that ultimately make it possible (to make improvements)," David Parish, chairman of the authority’s board, said of partnering with different organizations.

The trust fund contributed $90,000 of federal funding it receives toward the approximately $128,000 cost. The two accessible apartments were finished over the summer, and have housed tenants. They were improved around the same time the authority renovated more than two dozen other apartments thanks to a state grant.

The work helps the authority lower its vacancy rate, which has been too high in recent years.

Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, praised Natick Housing Authority leaders for improving the operations and finances recently.

Eileen Merritt, the Natick authority’s acting executive director, said the Cedar Gardens complex where the handicapped apartments are located was built in the 1940s and 1950s at a time when builders did not create many accessible units.

"This is a great celebration because we need more accessible housing," Gornstein said.

Having handicapped units allows residents to age at home and saves taxpayers money because people do not enter a more expensive facility such as a nursing home, he said.

Gornstein praised the trust fund for partnering with the authority on the project.

Randy Johnson, a member of the fund's board of trustees, which also works closely with the Community Development Advisory Committee, said the fund is designed to create and preserve affordable housing in town.

Johnson said board members were impressed with authority leaders’ dedication to make the project a success.

"Cooperation between people with shared principles and goals - this is the key ingredient to making (the renovations) happen," Johnson said.

Housing Authority Commissioner Erica Ball praised the trust fund for taking a "leap of faith" in supporting the authority’s project.

"You did have faith in us," Ball said. "I’m glad we were able to live up to it."

The authority, meanwhile, is already preparing for its next project – renovating 22 vacant apartments. Merritt said they hope to seek bids in January. Once those can be rented, the authority’s vacancy rate should be "well under" a 5 percent target, she said.


From the grounds up. Flowere donation helps spruce up Housing Authority properties (pdf)
By Brian Benson, Natick Bulletin & Tab, Jul 19, 2013

Natick Housing Authority
Natick Housing Authority


Natick Housing Authority turns attention to remaining vacancies
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Jul 12, 2013

With a batch of vacant apartments recently renovated and rented, Natick Housing Authority leaders are turning their attention to two dozen other vacant units that need improvements before they can be filled.

Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt said Thursday the authority plans to improve many of the remaining vacancies as part of a second round of renovations. She said she hopes to have an architect look at them soon to assess what work is needed in each apartment. The authority can then find a contractor to perform the work.

In-house staff are also working on a few of the apartments, she said.

"Getting these other units online as soon as we can is important from a financial perspective," said board Chairman David Parish. "The finances drive so much of what we can do."

Merritt said the 29 apartments that were recently renovated and rented bring in about $8,000 per month. They were renovated primarily through a state grant designed to help authorities turn over longtime vacant units.

The next set will be funded through housing authority reserves and possibly some capital funding for kitchen renovations, she said.

The number of empty units, currently at 24, changes frequently as other apartments become vacant. Merritt said the goal is to keep the vacancy rate below 5 percent, or roughly 20 units.

In other business, the board discussed sending a survey to residents throughout the authority about smoking in units as it looks at whether to consider a no-smoking policy.

Board members emphasized no decision has been reached and they are simply learning about the topic. The board will give residents an opportunity to weigh in if it decides to pursue a smoking ban, they said.

"This is the very, very beginning of this," board member Jeanne Ostroff said.

The board is also exploring the possibility of expanding parking areas.


Natick Housing Authority's renovated apartments ready for tenants
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Jun 26, 2013

Residents this week began moving into newly renovated Natick Housing Authority apartments, as the agency makes progress toward decreasing the number of vacant units.

Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt said about six new tenants are moving in every day this week as contractors complete a roughly $300,000 project to renovate 27 elderly and family apartments, mostly in Cedar Gardens.

"They’re just about 98 percent completed with the work," Merritt told the authority’s board Tuesday. "They did a great job."

That work varied from apartment to apartment, but generally included new appliances, kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures. Workers also replaced or improved flooring, among other tasks, she said.

State money designed to turn over vacant apartments so they can be rented again funded most of this project, but the authority plans to use some of its reserves to possibly renovate 19 other vacant apartments.

The authority is also finishing a project to renovate two apartments at Cedar Gardens to make them handicapped accessible with special cabinets, showers and other elements to make it easier for people with disabilities. It is also working on replacing old boilers.

Merritt said she is exploring hiring a contractor to handle painting and cleaning of future units as they become vacant, allowing maintenance staff to continue to focus on other day-to-day tasks.

Several Cedar Gardens residents said Tuesday they are glad to see the apartments renovated and other curb appeal projects such as painting and landscaping. Residents recently helped with mulching and landscaping a bed near the community center.

Charlotte Moorer said she is glad to see fewer vacant apartments because empty ones can attract squatters.

"I’m so thrilled to see these apartments filled," she said as she sat in the shade by the community center.


Natick looks to fill open jobs in housing, building
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, May 23, 2013

The town is looking for a new building commissioner as its housing authority looks to fill a vacant maintenance director position.

Natick is currently advertising both job openings.

Town Administrator Martha White announced this week Building Commissioner Michael Melchiorri plans to retire at the end of June.

Melchiorri has worked for the town for more than 30 years, including on major projects such as Natick Mall, Community Development Director Patrick Reffett said.

"When you have such incredibly large projects coming at you, it definitely takes you out of your comfort zone and Michael certainly rose to that challenge," Reffett said.

Reffett said Melchiorri has also done a good job with the more routine projects and inspections he encountered.

"The fact that we don’t have structural issues in town attests to his steadfast nature that he’s pursued in taking his job seriously and making sure the public is well served," Reffett said.

Reffett said town leaders are looking for a new commissioner with a firm grasp of electronic permitting systems since the town is "right on the cusp" of implementing one.

White said the town has two competent local inspectors who could help with work if a new commissioner is not in place when Melchiorri leaves.

The Natick Housing Authority, meanwhile, is looking for a director of maintenance and modernization. That position has been vacant since the prior maintenance leader retired in 2011, though one of the five skilled maintenance workers has served as an interim leader, Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt said.

"We’ll see what the pool of candidates looks like (and hire someone if they’re a good fit)," Merritt said.

The authority, meanwhile, plans to have a first round of 27 vacant units renovated by the end of June using state funding. It then plans to use reserves to renovate other vacant apartments, Merritt said.

Adding the maintenance director will help the organization keep up with routine jobs and renovate other apartments as they become vacant. The authority plans to contract some services out to help keep up with turning over vacant units, she said.

The agency has also used two workers through a Framingham temporary labor agency to help with maintenance tasks.

Applications for the housing authority job, which Merritt said involves more management duties than the position has had in the past, are due June 14.


New Natick Housing Authority member looks to help organization continue to improve
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, April 19, 2013

The Housing Authority’s newest member said Thursday she is eager to help the organization continue improving its finances and facilities.

"Clearly there’s a need for affordable housing," said Meg Kiely, who has lived in town for four years and was recently appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to the board. "There’s a huge waiting list for housing here in Natick as well as other towns throughout the commonwealth."

Kiely, who served in her first meeting last month, worked for the Boston Redevelopment Authority for about six years and spent time as its deputy director of housing and community development. Now a stay-at-home-mother with two daughters, she has worked on affordable housing development for two nonprofits.

"She has a wonderful housing background and has expertise that others of us on the board don’t have," board member Jeanne Williamson Ostroff said.

Kiely, whose term expires Jan. 2, 2017, replaces Gina Govoni, who stepped down, saying the position took up too much time for a volunteer job. Kiely said she has some time she can dedicate to the board and it keeps her engaged in the affordable housing world.

Kiely said she is trying to learn more about the authority, noting it has made great strides since it was in a deficit in 2011.

"I think the folks on the board and staff already understand the importance of paying a lot of attention to the financial position of the housing authority and so far they have done such an amazing job of turning it around and getting funding in place to renovate (vacant) units," she said.

The organization is working on several facility improvement projects, including renovating about 27 apartments thanks to about $255,000 in state funding. It also plans to use some reserve money to renovate other vacant apartments so they can be rented. The authority, like others around the state, may lose some state subsidies because of longterm vacant apartments.

Kiely said she hopes to ensure "we maximize the potential that we have with our housing units. That’s clearly already underway with all the renovation work going on. I want to make sure that it’s followed through with and that the …. look and feel of our housing is great."


Accountant: Natick Housing Authority's 2013 finances improved
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Feb 15, 2013

The Housing Authority's board Thursday approved a $1.6 million operating budget for this year that the authority's accountant said is a strong improvement from a deficit the agency faced several years ago.

Accountant Jill Fenton projected around $1.77 million in revenues.

"I think we've weathered the storm. ... I think everyone should feel good about that," Fenton told the board, cautioning they still need to pay close attention to finances.

Fenton said the state Department of Housing and Community Development is allowing authorities to increase operating expenses by 6.5 percent after several years of smaller or no increases. That does not include utility costs, Fenton said.

This budget includes 3 percent raises for administrative positions, which have gone without increases for several years. It includes money to continue to fund maintenance salaries at industry rates, which should be released again in the spring, Fenton said.

She said the authority ended 2012 with a $285,000 balance, allowing it to boost reserves to $316,000. Fenton said that is a good sign, especially given the authority was facing a reserve deficit a couple years ago.

It was revealed in summer 2011 the authority was $428,000 in debt and had been spending money it did not have.

The $285,000 was a result of money from DHCD to help the authority recover and savings because there were some vacant staff positions, housing officials said.

The 2013 budget funds all positions as if they are filled and does not rely on state subsidies, Fenton said.

"There is a fair amount of good news," board member David Parish said. "There are some significant challenges."

Parish and Fenton said a key for the authority this year is to renovate vacant units so they can be rented.

Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt said she plans to put out a request for bids next week to renovate 23 elderly and four family apartments thanks to a $254,835 state grant.

Merritt said the authority plans to use $169,000 from reserves to renovate an additional 19 apartments

In other business, the board voted to have Merritt remain acting executive director for at least the next six months.

Parish and board member Jeanne Williamson Ostroff met with Merritt, who has served in that role since fall 2011, about continuing after a candidate the authority had picked to be the new executive director declined the job. Merritt was a finalist for the permanent director job.

Parish noted at the board's January meeting Gov. Deval Patrick's plan to regionalize local housing authorities could impact another search for a director.

Parish said after Thursday's meeting that played a role in the decision along with maintaining stability.


Natick Housing Authority interim director, chairwoman point to communication problems
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Jan 11, 2013

The Housing Authority’s interim executive director and board chairwoman Thursday both made accusations of poor communication that at times has left them in the dark.

Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt told the organization’s board she felt "in some instances I haven’t had full knowledge of what the board wants and expects (of staff and herself)."

Merritt said she learns of some things on the street first making her feel embarrassed.

"I feel the same way," board Chairwoman Gina Govoni said, noting members ask Merritt questions but do not always receive adequate answers. "It’s mutual."

Govoni said she didn’t know enough once to answer a reporter’s inquiry and Merritt said she didn’t know Govoni planned to step down from the board until she heard about it at another meeting.

Govoni, the governor’s appointee to the committee, said she is planning to step down as the work has been taking up too much time for a volunteer position.

Merritt said the authority has made "huge progress," going from the brink of receivership to more solid financial status. But, she said it is too short-staffed to adequately meet tenants' needs.

Merritt, who was one of four finalists for the permanent job, has been serving in an interim role since fall 2011 after Executive Director Ed Santos went out sick and subsequently retired. It was revealed that summer the agency was $428,000 in debt and had been spending money it did not have for four years.

The board after interviewing the finalists last month picked affordable housing consultant Anne Reitmayer to serve as executive director, but Govoni has said Reitmayer declined the job after negotiations reached an impasse.

Members discussed several options including conducting a new search, and reviewing the pool of applicants who answered an ad in the fall for the job.

Member David Parish said new legislation Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday that seeks to regionalize local housing authorities could also impact a search for a director.

Patrick’s proposal would consolidate the state’s 240 housing authorities into six regional agencies, a move Patrick said in a press release would simplify and professionalize the public housing system. Regional agencies, each overseen by a nine-member board, would still have to consult local officials, including on an annual plan for properties.

The Patrick administration hopes to have the new organizational structure in place in July 2014.

"It should be emphasized it’s just a proposal and it would face some significant political hurdles," Parish said. "But it does set an atmosphere."

Tennant Margie Hamel advocated for the board to give Merritt the director job.
"The tenants know her. She knows the tenants, which is very important," Hamel said. "…I just don’t understand why we have to go out when we have the best here."

The board agreed to have Parish and member Erica Ball meet with Merritt.

Govoni, after the communication issues were raised, suggested it might be appropriate to review Merritt.

Parish said he believes that is a good idea, but first "I think we need the opportunity to talk. … We’ve all been under a lot of pressure here."


Nominee for Natick Housing Authority director turns down job
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Jan 10, 2013

The Housing Authority’s board plans to discuss tonight how to proceed after negotiations with their choice to become executive director failed.

The board on Dec. 6 unanimously picked Dover affordable housing consultant Anne Reitmayer as executive director. But Chairwoman Gina Govoni said Wednesday that Reitmayer declined the job just before New Year's after "negotiations reached an impasse."

"The board has not met since this was confirmed," Govoni said in an email. "We will be discussing our options on Thursday evening."

Reitmayer declined to comment about the decision Wednesday.

Board members, after selecting Reitmayer, said they were impressed with her background in legal issues and public and private housing and desire to collaborate with town departments.

The authority interviewed four finalists before picking her.

Eileen Merritt, one of the finalists, has served as acting executive director since fall 2011, when Executive Director Ed Santos went out sick and subsequently retired. It was revealed in the summer of 2011 the authority was $428,000 in debt and had been spending money it did not have for four years, a situation consultants have said has since improved.

Merritt was the assistant director before assuming the interim role.

Medford Housing Authority Interim Executive Director Michael Pacious and former Melrose Housing Authority Executive Director Ann St. Pierre rounded out the finalists.

The starting salary range for the Natick position is set by the state at $65,467 to $67,679, Govoni has said.

Tonight’s meeting begins at 6:30 in the Ryan Community Hall at Coolidge Gardens, 4 Cottage St.


Monday Morning Cup of Coffee: Property values continue to gain momentum
By Megan Hopkins, housingwire.com, December 17, 2012

Monday Morning Cup of Coffee takes a look at news coming across the HousingWire weekend desk, with more coverage to come on bigger issues. ...

Boston will enforce a program that gives the Natick Housing Authority, provider of low-income housing for state-assisted families and the elderly, nearly $255,000 in order to fix up 28 vacant units. There are 33 agencies taking part in the state-enforced program.

The program will provide $2.2 million in grant money to help local housing agencies fix up vacant units so they can be rented. Vacant units that are eligible for renovations must require repair costing between $2,500 and $25,000 and the grants will be doled out as reimbursements after the work is complete.

The state officials are tightening the rules a bit, however, requiring that tenants be in the refurbished units by March 31 in order for the local agencies to receive reimbursements.

Read more about the newly announced housing program by clicking here.


Grants will help renovate long-vacant public housing
By Jaclyn Reiss, The Boston Globe, December 16, 2012

As a new executive director was selected for the Natick Housing Authority earlier this month, the state announced a program that would give the Natick authority nearly $255,000 to fix up 28 vacant units.

The number of units is the second highest to be renovated among the 33 agencies taking part in the program. Fitchburg, with 41 vacant units, has the highest number to refurbish, while Worcester, with 26 vacant units, was third. Fitchburg manages a total of 570 units, according to the state; Worcester, 562.

Two other area communities, Milford and Waltham, are also included in the new program, which is providing $2.2 million in grant money to help local housing agencies repair vacant units so they can be rented. Units eligible for renovations must have capital repair costs between $2,500 and $25,000, and the grants will be doled out as reimbursements after completion of the work, the state said.

But state officials made it clear that to receive the reimbursements, the local agencies would need to have tenants in the refurbished units by March 31. The state also announced that starting on Jan. 1, it will be withholding subsidies for public housing units that have been vacant for more than 60 days.

Under the program, Milford is in line to receive $13,000 to renovate one vacant unit, and Waltham has been promised nearly $40,000 for repairs to seven vacant units.

News of the grant program and revised policy came as the Natick Housing Authority announced Dover resident Anne Reitmayer has been offered the job as its executive director.

The Natick agency, which manages 422 units, has received criticism from its tenants and state officials in recent years, leading to the replacement of board members and its former director, Ed Santos.

The chairwoman of the authority’s board of directors, ­Gina Govoni, said even though the state funding comes with caveats, she thinks the grants and the new vacancy policy will help the town repair several units for reoccupancy.

“It’s a concern,” she said of the state’s new vacancy stipulations, “but I’d like to look at this as an opportunity and an incentive to get moving. I think it will help more than hinder.”

The authority’s acting executive director, Eileen Merritt, who took over for Santos a year ago, did not return calls seeking comment. Reitmayer said she did not want to comment with job negotiations not yet final.

Patricia Morrill, the Milford Housing Authority’s executive director, could not be reached for comment on the grant.

Walter McGuire, the Waltham Housing Authority’s executive director, said about 30 of the authority’s 812 units are vacant, and seven have been empty for more than 60 days.

“Our goal is not to get in that situation if at all avoidable, but without the resources, it happens,” he said. “All the units we got the funding for are the only ones vacant for more than 60 days. These are not units where they just need a cosmetic redo. There’s other substantial work that needs to be done.”

McGuire said he is confident that Waltham can fix and fill the seven units by the state’s March 31 deadline.

“It happens,” he said of the 60-day-plus vacancies. “If you have something needing major work, and you can do two or three others in the same time to do that one, you pick the best choice for your area. But this [funding] helps us get units ready quicker, and get them to people who really need them.”

McGuire said he also is not worried about the state’s new policy on withholding funds for units empty for more than 60 days, since most of Waltham’s units have new tenants before the deadline.

“Most of our units are not vacant that long,” he said. He noted that municipalities can apply for extensions for some situations, such as repairing units with fire damage or conducting certain long-term renovation projects.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development also said that, as part of its new vacancy policy, it would provide support and technical assistance to housing authorities that face legitimate roadblocks to timely reoccupancy.

“Affordable public housing is in high demand across the state,” said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the department, in an announcement on the new grants. “These additional funds dedicated to turnover costs will provide local housing authorities with new tools and funding to more quickly house seniors and families looking for affordable housing.”

The vacancy turnover initiative is one part of a broader strategy to reform the state’s public housing system, according to the department. Other reforms have included requiring local housing authorities to provide the state with the salaries of the five highest-paid staff members, as well as setting a maximum salary for executive directors.

There are about 1,734 vacant state-aided public housing units in Massachusetts, the majority of which are in various stages of turnover for reoccupancy. Less than 5 percent of the state-aided public housing units across the state are vacant, according to the department.


Natick housing authority getting $255,000 to fix up 28 vacant housing units
By Jaclyn Reiss, Boston.com, December 10, 2012

As a new executive director was appointed to the Natick Housing Authority late last week, the state announced a program that would give the Natick authority $255,000 to fix up 28 vacant units, the second highest number among the 33 agencies taking part in the program.

Fitchburg at 41 vacant units has the highest number, while Worcester with 26 vacant units was listed at number three.

The program is providing $2.2 million in grant money to the housing authorities to make repairs to vacant units so they can be rented,

But state officials also made it clear that to accept the funding, the units paid for with the grants would have to be filled by March 31. The state also announced it would introduce a new blanket policy starting Jan. 1 that would withhold state subsidies for units vacant for more than 60 days.

The news of the new state program and policy came as the Natick authority's Board of Directors announced that Dover resident Anne Reitmayer would be the authority's new executive director.

The Natick Housing Authority has received criticism from both its tenants and state officials in recent years, leading to the replacement of some board members and former director Edward Santos.

Natick’s 28 vacant units is about 6.6 percent of the 422 units overseen by the housing authority. The state has set 5 percent, or 21 units in Natick, as the maximum vacancy rate, with the goal of no vacancy.

The Natick Housing Authority board’s chairwoman, Gina Govoni, said even though the state funding comes with caveats, she thinks the grants and the new vacancy policy being introduced will help the town repair several units for reoccupation.

“It’s a concern,” she said of the state’s new vacancy stipulations, “but I’d like to look at this as an opportunity and an incentive to get moving. I think it will help more than hinder.”

Natick Housing Authority’s acting executive director, Eileen Merritt, who took over for Santos in fall 2011, did not return multiple calls to comment.

Reitmayer said she did not want to comment since job negotiations were not yet final.

Some officials said Natick is already headed in the right direction to occupy vacant units, which stood at 57 units in summer 2011, according to the state.

Joe Merkel, a Natick housing planner, said the town has used federal grants to get some units repaired, while volunteers have helped paint and patch up other units before the town listed them for occupation.

“There was a much larger number of vacant units about a year ago, and there has been a real push to get those units back online,” Merkel said.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development also said in the face of its new vacancy policy, it would provide support and technical assistance to housing authorities that face legitimate roadblocks to timely re-occupancy.

“Affordable public housing is in high demand across the state,” said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the department, in a statement. “These additional funds dedicated to turnover costs will provide local housing authorities with new tools and funding to more quickly house seniors and families looking for affordable housing.”

The vacant turnover initiative is one part of a broader strategy being implemented to reform the state’s public housing system, according to the department. Other reforms have included requiring local housing authorities to provide the state with salaries of the five highest-paid management staff, as well as setting a maximum salary for local housing authority executive directors.

There are currently about 1,734 vacant state-aided public housing units in Massachusetts, the majority of which are in various stages of turnover for re-occupancy. Less than 5 percent of total state-aided public housing units in the state are vacant, according to the department.


Natick Housing Authority preps for renovations
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Dec 10, 2012

With state funding awarded, the Housing Authority is moving forward with plans to renovate more than two dozen vacant apartments in the coming months.

Acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt said she was pleased to learn the state has awarded Natick $254,835 to renovate 28 units, mostly elderly apartments at Cedar Gardens. The apartments have been vacant awaiting funding to complete repairs.

Merritt said she hopes to put the project out to bid soon with the renovations completed in the early spring.

The authority has struggled to lower its vacancy rate, which was around 12 percent last month.

But renovating the apartments will allow them to be rented again, generating revenue that can be used for other projects, Merritt said.

"This affects so many other things," she said. "Filling the units brings in the rents and you can keep going with preventative maintenance."

Merritt said completing the renovations should help the authority reduce its vacancy rate to 5 percent. That is the number listed in a state-mandated corrective action plan the authority formed in the wake of running a $428,000 budget deficit in 2011.

Architect John Ciccariello said the work includes replacing kitchen cabinets, new flooring, repainting and some miscellaneous plumbing and electrical projects.

Carolynn Anderson, president of the Cedar Gardens Tenant Organization, said she is pleased to learn the authority received the funding.

"Anything that can help build their funds as far as I’m concerned is a big plus," Anderson said. "They’re doing the best they can with what they have right now."

Anderson said tenants look forward to seeing the apartments filled because of the overall investment in the authority’s facilities and the added security of knowing someone is across the hall.

"We’re going to be thrilled to see those units occupied," Anderson said. "The unoccupied units mean that some people are without neighbors."

Matthew Sheaff, a spokesman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said Natick is one of 33 housing authorities that received collectively $2.2 million in funding to renovate the vacant apartments.

Milford Housing Authority received $13,000 to renovate one vacant unit, he said.

Local housing authorities must have the unit repaired and reoccupied by March 31. Authorities receive the money as a reimbursement once units have been repaired and re-occupied, Sheaff said.

He said the funding will help meet a statewide need for affordable housing.

"This is a very important initiative for this administration," Sheaff said.


Natick Housing Authority board names new director
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Dec 07, 2012

The Housing Authority’s board Thursday unanimously selected affordable housing consultant Anne Reitmayer as the authority's next executive director, subject to successful contract negotiations.

Board members said after the meeting that they were impressed with her background in legal issues and public and private housing.

Chairwoman Gina Govoni said she likes Reitmayer’s desire to work with the town on its affordable housing plans, something with which the authority has not been heavily involved before.

"She sees a fusion there that will just be a benefit to everyone in the town," Govoni said.

Reitmayer said in her interview she "would very much want to work with the town. This is a town where there’s a lot of homeownership (and) a lot of need for affordable housing."

The authority gave the four finalists, Eileen Merritt, Michael Pacious, Reitmayer and Ann St. Pierre, 30 minutes each to discuss finances, staffing and other topics. Govoni said the starting salary range, as dictated by the state, is $65,467 to $67,679.

Member David Parish said all were strong candidates.

Merritt has served as acting executive director in Natick since last fall, when Executive Director Ed Santos went out sick and subsequently retired. It was revealed in the summer of 2011 that the authority was $428,000 in debt and had been spending money it did not have for four years, a situation consultants have said has improved.

Reitmayer has been a consultant since 1997 during which she spent two years as Brookline Housing Authority’s part-time planning director. She spent a decade in the 1980s and 1990s leading the nonprofit Boston Citywide Land Trust.

"I have wanted to feel like my work was making a difference in the lives of people," she said.

Reitmayer said she would review the authority’s finances going back five years and would monitor them regularly in the future. She said she would look closely at what needs to be improved at vacant units so they can be rented.

The authority should strike a balance between fixing vacant units, conducting preventative maintenance and ensuring tenants’ living conditions are adequate, she said.

"A lot can be achieved by providing opportunities for people to know what’s going on," she said, suggesting implementing resident surveys and ensuring tenants know about the agency’s goals.

Merritt said keys to financial stability include keeping the vacancy rate at 5 percent or less and staying up-to-date on preventative maintenance.

"A year-and-a-half ago when I stepped into this position, it was really difficult. There was a lot to be done there was a lot of bad feelings," Merritt said. "… But we overcame it and I feel like we’ve come a long, long way."

Pacious, who has served as interim executive director at the Medford Housing Authority for the past six months, said he would review current financial processes and ensure the board is regularly updated on the financial picture.
"I think the most important thing is curb appeal," he said of keeping tenants happy.

St. Pierre, who is the former executive director of the Melrose Housing Authority, spoke about reviewing financial and staffing information and pledged to inspect every unit within 12 months.

"I would not spend money the housing authority does not have," she said.

Govoni said assuming negotiations with Reitmayer are successful and her background check is satisfactory, Merritt would resume the assistant executive director role she held before stepping in as acting director. Board members thanked her for her efforts as the temporary director.


Natick, Milford housing authorities receive state grants
By Staff reports, The MetroWest Daily News, Dec 06, 2012

Housing authorities in Natick and Milford were among 33 authorities to receive collectively $2.2 million in state Department of Housing and Community Development funds to help renovate vacant units, the state announced today.
Natick received $254,835 to renovate 28 units. Milford received $13,000 to renovate one apartment.

“Affordable public housing is in high demand across the state,” Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein said in a press release. “These additional funds dedicated to turnover costs will provide local housing authorities with new tools and funding to more quickly house seniors and families looking for affordable housing.”

Local housing authorities must have the unit repaired and reoccupied by March 31, 2013. To be eligible for the funding, the units must have been vacant for more than 60 days and required capital repairs estimated to cost between $2,500 and $25,000. Authorities receive the money as a reimbursement once the units have been repaired and occupied, according to the release.


Natick board embarks on search for Housing Authority director
By Brian Benson/Daily News staff, The MetroWest Daily News, Sep 14, 2012

The Housing Authority’s board’s chairwoman said Thursday she hopes to post by next month ads seeking an executive director.

Chairwoman Gina Govoni said the state Department of Housing and Community Development must approve the posting, which board members agreed to include in several locations including newspapers, job web pages, the state DHCD, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the town and housing authority websites and housing and training organizations.

"I know we all have expressed that we want to … cast as wide a net as possible," Govoni said.
Board member Jeanne Williamson Ostroff suggested also posting at colleges, something she offered to look into.

Govoni said prospective candidates should look at the authority’s website and read the organizational assessment, which consultants recently completed outlining recommendations for the authority to move forward.

Eileen Merritt has been serving as acting executive director since last fall. Previous Executive Director Ed Santos went out sick in September 2011 and retired in November. It was revealed in the summer of 2011 the authority was $428,298 in debt.

The consultants said the authority has improved financially but has more work to do, including lowering vacancy rates.
Govoni, who wanted the assessment completed before hiring a director, said the organization is ready now to begin that process.

In other business, Merritt told the board she recommended a salary increase for the authority’s office staff. Staff members have not received an increase since 2009 and the state may allow a 3 or 4 percent increase in the upcoming budget cycle, Merritt said.

She said the maintenance staff has received increases regularly, as required by the state.
Board member David Parish suggested salary changes be discussed in the context of the department’s budget and asked for data on the financial impact of different percentage increases.

Carolynn Anderson of the Cedar Gardens Tenant Organization told the board concerns about sidewalks, doors and other issues expressed by some tenants in a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick this summer do not represent the overall views of tenants.

Anderson said while some back sidewalks are poor, residents have other routes they can take. Merritt, police and fire departments have satisfactorily handled other problems, she said.

"By and large everyone very pleased," she said. "...Thank you for everything you’ve done for us. I really appreciate it."


State responds to Natick Housing Authority tenants' concerns
By Brian Benson, The MetroWest Daily News, Sep 12, 2012

Responding to concerns from some residents of Natick Housing Authority’s Cedar Gardens complex, a state housing official told tenants she was advising the authority to fix any safety problems, but also acknowledged that money for repairs is tight.

The state and the authority "certainly wish the resources existed to renovate all buildings" regularly, the significant money needed does not exist, Lizbeth Heyer, associate director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s public housing division, wrote in a letter to the residents.

As a result, the housing authority "must make thoughtful decisions about how to spend the resources that are available to best serve residents and preserve health and safety,'' she said.

Twenty-seven tenants sent a letter addressed to Gov. Deval Patrick this summer, saying they worry about their health and safety stemming from what they say are deteriorating conditions due to the authority's neglect. They also worry about how the authority is managing money, according to the letter.

The letter outlined several complaints including crumbling sidewalks, windows that can be removed from the outside, limited fire exits and the lack of locks on some outside doors. Tenants said they wanted an inspection of the living conditions and recommendations on how to fix the problems.

Heyer wrote that those concerns are similar to others made about Cedar Gardens and her department’s staff has been working to make sure the authority responds properly to them.

Cedar Gardens, Heyer wrote, is more than 50 years old and was built to meet all applicable codes then.

The Natick Fire Department "has stated that the systems within the buildings do provide ample protection to the residents," she wrote.

She said she encourages tenants to continue to contact Natick Housing Authority staff for specific maintenance needs or safety concerns.

Eileen Merritt, the authority’s interim executive director, said the agency is performing maintenance at Cedar Gardens, including replacing some roofs and exterior doors. In recent months, staff has ensured all windows can be locked.

Authority workers fix safety problems quickly after they are reported, she said.

The authority has a $370,000 capital budget for the current fiscal year for projects at Cedar Gardens and other properties, she said.

In the next three to six months, Merritt said she hopes to hire a contractor to renovate 30 vacant units at Cedar Gardens, getting them ready to be rented and generate income that can help fund other improvements.

"It’s a work in progress," she said.

Resident Joseph McCarthy, who signed the tenant letter, said he has seen progress in recent months, including on the roofs.

"They have improved," McCarthy said. "Things are getting better."


Volunteers help out with affordable housing repairs
By Peter Golden, The MetroWest Daily News, May 18, 2012

With hundreds on waiting lists and dozens of units unoccupied due to limited operating budgets, reduced staffing levels and a variety of condition issues, the Natick Housing Authority has welcomed community volunteer groups intent on bringing affordable housing units long out of service back on line.

The strong hands and warm hearts of volunteers from numerous Natick service organizations and an exceptionally generous group of local contractors have accomplished a near miracle: By returning over a dozen long unoccupied public housing units at Cedar Gardens and other locations around Natick to service at virtually no public cost other than supplies, individuals and families in desperate need now have access to permanent, comfortable, low-cost housing.

“We’ve had a group in place at Temple Israel in Natick for over 25 years called Ark Builders, says Jay Ball, a former selectman and long-time community volunteer. “We built furniture of our congregation. But when my wife Ricky was elected to the Natick Housing Authority board I heard many units were unoccupied, especially multi-bedroom units on Forrest Avenue Extension and Bennett Street. All were sorely in need of renovation. We got Ark Builders to work doing a lot of things that quickly added up to something bigger like installing new kitchen cabinets, rebuilding staircases, repainting walls and ceilings and more.”

Ball’s group began its work in September of 2011 and soon was joined by another group of volunteers from St. Paul’s Church led by Mark St. Hillarie, a local resident and member of the police force noted for his activism as a volunteer. “Mark brought almost a dozen people with him to one unit to add to our crew of six. On top of that, a group led by Richard Perry and Roberta Caruso brought in family members to do a grounds cleanup. Then Pat Conaway installed recycling bins all over Cedar Gardens.”

Somehow, word of mouth about the exceptional efforts of the Natick volunteers carried all the way to other states, which led to Mark Cooper, a former associate rabbi at Temple Israel appearing one day with a busload of 15 teenagers associated with a New Jersey congregation. With plenty of cleaning to be done, the kids got to work too. Then Hartford Street Presbyterian Church sent along volunteers. Momentum was building.

Individual standouts, says Ball, were Joe Quinan of Quinan Construction, who came back again and again to work by himself on any task required, including single-handedly reconstructing ceilings – no small task, according to Ball. Ben Greenberg and Jon Miller made a major contribution to the exacting work of rebuilding staircases in multi-level units long in need of repair. In total six, long-empty apartments, most with multiple bedrooms ideal for larger families in need were brought back into service.

But that’s not the whole story. Peter Burke, a local builder and member of the Natick Rotary Club heard about the opportunity to be of service and got his club members and many of the contractors with whom he works involved, too. “We became a small part of the solution for making units available for occupancy,” says Burke, “but we were proud to be part of it.”

Rotarians began to make regular appearances on a succession of Saturdays this past winter at Cedar Gardens and on Bennett Street, where they attacked a variety of problems in seven units. Local electrical contractor Vinny Tingley, who is also a Rotarian, rewired old circuits and installed smoke detectors. Tingley’s son Bryan, a senior and member of the Natick High chapter of the Nation Honor Society, recruited ten members of his group to rake leaves and wash windows.

Jim McDonald of Precision Painters tiled bathrooms and Paul Shirley refinished all the hardwood floors in three units. Members of the Natick Rotary Club cleaned and painted bathrooms and kitchens in almost all of the seven units. “There’s still lots of work to be done, but the vacancy rate has been reduced dramatically,” says Burke.

“These wonderful volunteers have dedicated their time and skills to helping very low-income families gain access to high quality affordable housing,” says Gina Govoni, chairman of the Natick Housing Authority. “I love the work they’ve done!


SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS: Ark Builders step up their effort
By Maureen Sullivan, GateHouse News Service, Nov 25, 2011

For the past few months, as one drama at the Natick Housing Authority unfolded, another has played out more quietly, and to a much more appreciative audience.

Volunteers led by the Ark Builders of Temple Israel, and including members of St. Paul’s and Hartford Street Presbyterian churches and the Natick Rotary Club, have been helping the NHS renovate housing units. To date, four units have been completed and rented out, with another three in various stages of renovation.

On Nov. 15, these groups met with acting Executive Director Eileen Merritt and the maintenance foreman, Jeff Harmon, to discuss the next steps. The biggest issue: how to better coordinate the volunteers.

Erica Ball, a member of the Housing Authority’s Board of Directors, suggested that the volunteer group be named the Friends of the Natick Housing Authority, which was adopted.

Under the new name, volunteers have been assigned for the following:

Peter Burke will coordinate his fellow volunteers from the Rotary working on apartment units at Cedar Gardens and Coolidge Gardens with Harmon.

Jay Ball will coordinate volunteers working on family units at Bennett Street, Curve Street, Forest Avenue Extension and High Street Extension with Harmon.

Dick Perry will coordinate grounds cleanup activities, whether needed at apartment complexes or family units. Harmon will advise which sites need cleanup, and hopefully will provide one or more NHA trucks to remove leaves. There’s a cleanup planned this Saturday; the information is below.

Ben Greenberg will be the man in charge of directing family unit cleaning and painting.
Mark St. Hilaire will spearhead the group’s communications efforts through creation of a website, a Facebook page and/or a Twitter account (Twitter@NHAfriends), and by working with the local print media.

For information on how to help, email nhafriends@gmail.com.



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