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Praise alongside complaints and pleas for better connections

The Arlington Housing Authority (AHA) has voted for more than $1 million in improvements among its four properties and heard numerous comments, some of them biting, from residents seeking better communication.

At its regular meeting Wednesday, Jan. 20, the board for the state-based authority approved in 5-0 votes:

  • A low-bid award to Homer Contracting for a $203,000 Drake Village exterior project as well as five alternates at $41,000 each, for a total contract award of $408,000;
  • An amended capital plan for $150,000 in emergency formula funding to replace the fire pump at Winslow Towers;
  • An amended capital Plan for $450,000 in emergency formula funding for the fire alarm system at the Hauser Building; and
  • Submission of a $55,000 state sustainability grant for energy-efficient material to replace the Cusack terrace roof.

In about an hour of the 95-minute meeting, the board heard praise and complaints. In general, positive words came from tenant leaders, while tenants provided the latter. The thrust of grievances sought changes that appeared, from the tenants' perspective, to have gone unaddressed.

Thanks,  criticism

Pamela Hauser, president of the Winslow Towers' tenants' council, offered kudos and kvetches. Getting approval from AHA attorney John Greco to make a statement, she thanked the board for Christmas dinners and said the past three meetings had witnessed "outrageous behavior" and name-calling from those who do not understand what an authority is for, including some commissioners. She asked all to understand "what the AHA is doing for the elderly."

She praised AHA Executive Director Griffin and thanked AHA board members. Asked later who she was criticizing, she wrote: "Tenants from Menotomy Manor.  I never used a name in my statement."

New board member Fiorella Badilla asked for clarification about incidents to which Hauser alluded. At that point, a speaker identified as "RC," or Rachel, raised issue of condensation in windows and of paying high heating bills for an apartment that is still cold. 

Griffin suggested asking maintenance for repairs. RC replied maintenance had told her that they "are the way they are." She said she is not being accusatory, just asking someone to take a look.

CPA suggestion

Board member Jo Anne Preston asked about using Community Preservation Act funds. Griffin indicated that past such requests had not been agreed to.

Griffin said everything has been updated in Menotomy Manor, except for windows and foundation.

Board Chair Nick Mitropoulos called for a short-term solution. Board member Brian Connor first suggested putting plastic on the windows and then Plexiglas.

Badilla said Plexiglas would have to removed before the summer and raised issues of energy conservation. In response to Griffin's point about new heating and water being installed in all of Menotomy Manor through an energy-conservation grant, Badilla pointed out that the energy savings is not being realized because of the poor windows, and  that the high cost of heating is falling to the low-income residents, which is a great burden.

Asked by RC as to when she would be hearing from the AHA about the window problem, Mitropoulos said he would call in the next couple of days.

Doors, vaccine

Ellen Leigh, a Cusak Terrace tenant, said she is repeating her request automatic door openers for handicap accessibility in community rooms and bathrooms. 

Griffin said the openers will go out to bid in the next month or so.

As to the Covid vaccine, Leigh said she has been advocating for a while with federal, state and local officials. She wanted to know the communication plan.

Griffin said he has been in contact with Christine Bongiorno, head of town human services. Once scheduled, vaccinations will occur as did flu clinics. The state must first announce the schedule, he said.

In a related matter, Griffin said an AHA maintenance employee at the Hauser Building tested positive for Covid-19 recently, and two others were sent home.

Window issues

Lisa, whose last name was not provided, returned to window condensation, this time at Menotomy Manor. She suggested Mass Save as an option. Griffin said the state program replaced exterior lights in 2008 and is going through AHA buildings now to put required lights in hallways, a process he expected to be completed in the next six months.

Tenant Marian King, who said she has been bringing up window issues at Menotomy Manor since about 2000, says Griffin has always said there is no money for windows or that maintenance would take care of it.

Connor called for a quick fix. Mitropoulos said the issues require an audit, and "We'll figure out something."

Tenant Cathy Spencer said many residents are asking for redetermination of rent. Griffin said residents can call his office and get that done.

Pests, lights

`Rachel, of Menotomy Manor, returned to say that the presence of mice, rodents and roaches continues. Griffin said the AHA just signed a contract with Terminex, an exterminator, who will start with building 2, and then proceed to treat all AHA buildings.

Rachel also asked whether outside lights can be turned away from tenants' windows.  Further, she mentioned a light that is going on and off, which is dangerous. She said Eversource indicated the issues is not theirs, and she can't figure out who should take care of this. Griffin asked her to call the AHA office.

At this point, Mitropoulos asked someone identified as "Caller 4" to mute himself because he was using inappropriate language in the background.

Winslow tenant John Ward raised issues of communications. He called the AHA website "a mess," because of its omissions and errors.

"If it can’t be taken care of," he said, "the issue needs to be raised with HUD" and the state Attorney General's Office.

Griffin said he is not a webmaster, adding later that it is "not about the webmaster; it’s about the data provided."

After Ward demanded to know when the matter would be addressed, Mitropoulos provided his telephone number and told Ward to call any time. 

Elevator, minutes

Under project updates, Griffin reported that the Cusack elevator is complete, work is progressing on the roof at Cusak terrace, a $72,000 Family Self-Sufficiency grant is in the works and that installation of new windows at Winslow, a $2.5 million project, is expected to start in March.

Under a discussion of the Dec. 16 minutes, Badilla asked who takes them, saying they are "very out of context."

Griffin said the minutes taker does record every detail, a point that Ward latter supported, as did Greco.

Badilla asked about video recordings of the Dec. 16 and earlier meetings. Precinct 8 Town Meeting member made a similar request.

Preston moved to table the minutes, and that was supported, 5-0.

Name change?

Before the meeting adjourned, Badilla asked whether the name of Menotomy Manor could be changed, noting the reference to Native Americans. The issue has led the School Committee to end the practice of using the image of Dallin's "Menotomy Hunter" at Arlington High School.

An unidentified speaker responded: "Ah, come on!" Badilla asked the person to avoid such comments.

Griffin said he would look into who has naming rights. For years, people referred to the public housing in East Arlington as "The Projects." He said the AHA chose a name to avoid a stigma. "We can call whatever we want," he said.

See the ACMi video of the Jan. 20 meeting:

June 24, 2020: A one-tenant cause: Stop 'theft' of shopping carts

This summary was published Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Rebecca Gruber provided meeting notes. Bob Sprague contributed to them.