Winslow Towers, 2021New windows at Winslow Towers can be seen on the Mystic Street side.

Return to remote meetings; public guidelines issued

Technological and financial challenges required a return to online Zoom meetings for the July 21, board meeting of the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA).

June’s well-attended meeting at the Drake Village/Hauser complex in Arlington Heights was the first in-person gathering in 14 months. In his opening remarks, Chairman Brian Connor said, “Unfortunately, we don’t have [hybrid] technology. It’s rather expensive. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure it out, but for right now, our board meetings will be through Zoom.”

The authority is following an updated guidance issued by Gov. Baker extending certain Covid measures – such as remote meetings – until April 2022.

Hybrid technology allows in-person meetings to be held simultaneously with a remote-access feed for staff, board members and the public, and is currently in use with the town’s Select Board meetings.

Although not part of the posted meeting agenda, Connor introduced new “Public Participation Guidelines” (see text in full below), which he said may “make the meetings more productive.” The guidelines include limiting tenant presidents to facility-specific issues, and the general public discussion should address only the agenda items. He asked that all maintenance-related concerns be brought up in the monthly maintenance meetings attended by tenant presidents, maintenance staff, property managers and interim director Jack Nagle.

Vice Chair Jo Anne Preston said that while “we don’t want to discourage people from speaking . . . please stay on topic.” She said she researched “10 other area housing authorities, and eight of them use this procedure. In fact, many of them have stricter policies.”

Griffin’s leave indefinite

The status of the executive director’s return remains unclear. “I have spoken with him, and he’s asked for additional medical leave time,” said Connor. “It’s indefinite at this point. So, we’ll take it one day at a time.”

In a follow-up email to YourArlington, Connor wrote that Griffin “has ample paid time off to cover for his absence. Jack will continue as interim executive director until further notice.”

Board attorney John Greco explained during the meeting that the ailing Griffin could request relief under the Family Medical Leave Act, and “If he has a disability, that allows him reasonable accommodation. It will be whenever the doctor says he can come back to work within a reasonable period of time. But even if it is reasonable accommodation, it can’t be such that it creates an unreasonable burden administratively or financially on the housing authority.”

The board approved Griffin’s three-month leave at its April meeting, and it expires at the end of this month. While serving as interim director, Nagle still holds his regular position as operations manager for the housing authority.

Griffin, a former commissioner of the housing authority, previously served as executive director of the Bedford Housing Authority before being hired to Arlington’s top job in 2007.

Interim director presents report

Nagle ticked through his extensive project list, starting with an update on Winslow Towers, a high rise for the elderly and disabled near Arlington Center. After almost a yearlong delay because of Covid restrictions, the first half of the $2 million window-replacement and envelope-repair project, begun in April, is almost complete. The project includes installing shades and screens on the completed windows.

Winslow Tenant President Pam Hauser said, “The windows are absolutely beautiful. I’ve had my family members comment on how beautiful they look. They’re doing a great job here.”

The Drake Village exterior renovations of the cottages are nearing completion, and Nagle said he hopes to have the entry-door improvement project out to bid soon.

The $129,000 Chestnut Manor balcony-resurfacing project bid was approved, and residents will be notified once a start date has been confirmed.

The Cusack Terrace roof replacement is out to bid, and the authority will communicate any parking restrictions to residents before the works starts.

Menotomy Manor windows

At the family complex of Menotomy Manor in East Arlington, Nagle said he hoped that this week he will have “a clear understanding of when [the windows project] is put out to bid.” The windows have been an ongoing source of concern for the residents who say that they are leaky, drafty, collect condensation and are not energy efficient, which lead to high utility bills.

Last month, the housing board approved a $40,000 window study in the fiscal 2022 budget, but the long Department of Housing and Community Development budgeting process means that the project may not be started for several years. Nagle said that Preston “has been helping to determine outside funding opportunities. We will continue to seek out outside grants and other resources for this project.”

Nagle encouraged Menotomy Manor as well as other housing authority residents to report window and other maintenance issues to the hot line at 781-646-1272.

Personnel updates, other news

Nagle announced that Bob Cronin, director of maintenance, will retire at the end of the month. The position is being expanded to the title of director of maintenance and modernization, to “better encompass of the duties currently involved in this position,” Nagle wrote in an email. He added that once she finishes training, a new maintenance clerk will be handling all the maintenance calls during business hours.

Resident services coordinator Tricia Horgan is to start Aug. 2, and Nagle said he is “excited about the impact she’ll be able to make on the community.”

The authority is looking to bid out resident laundry-room services. The contract calls for all new, card-operated machines, with the company providing service calls to all the housing authority properties. This contract will eliminate the current coin-operated machines. The board previously extended free access to these machines through August.

Air-conditioning policy

The board voted to accept the new public-housing notice as the official housing authority policy related to air-conditioners. The notice addresses new safety conditions. For instance, a residence that had an air-conditioning unit in the only window in the main room, and a unit in the only window in the bedroom -- with no other windows in the residence -- would need to leave one window free for emergency ingress and egress. In those cases, the resident would need to use a stand-alone unit with an hose attachment draining to the outside, said Nagle.

Greco noted that, because the authority is self-insured, a a bonded and insured person must place and remove air-conditioners. Hauser said that the two people authorized to do the work charge $40 to $50 per visit -- one to put it in, and one to take it out. “They’re making a bundle of money,” which she also said was a financial burden for people living on a fixed income. Connor asked Nagle to research a recommended vendor list that could offer a group discount for tenants.

Pest control

Infestations of bedbugs, mice and cockroaches have plagued many housing authority properties, such as those in Arlington. On a recommendation by Preston, the board voted to have Nagle research “integrated pest management,” an “environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices,” according the Environmental Protection Agency website. Preston said the program is already used in large housing authorities, such as Boston and Cambridge.

Antennae bid approval

Leasing of rooftop spaces to telecommunications companies provides a steady and substantial monthly income stream to the housing authority. The board approved the antennae bid for rooftop access at the Hauser Building at 37 Drake Road to AT&T, at a 3-percent annual increase. Although current contract rates were not available at press time, antennae contracts at the Winslow and Drake/Hauser buildings can generate $3,200 per month per building with built-in annual increases.

Local tenant organizations

Of the five tenant organizations, only Hauser of Winslow Towers and Rachel Cravotta of Menotomy Manor gave reports. Hauser inquired when tenant organizations would receive their annual funds, and asked whether the board was planning any community gatherings, such as cookouts, this year.

Cravotta, one of the organizing members of the Menotomy Manor tenant committee, thanked the board for providing translation and copying services of the nomination forms for the fledgling tenant group.

She asked the board to consider the sump-pump failures following the heavy rains of July 10, which resulted in flooded basements throughout the property, as “bigger than just maintenance,” alleging that “sump pumps have not been checked regularly.” She wondered whether when the “filters are changed with the heat, if they could check the sump pumps, as well.”

Because of the new participation guidelines outlined by Connor at the beginning of the meeting, the comments were noted but not discussed or addressed by the board.

In a follow-up email with YourArlington on this issue, Nagle said that “We are in the process of reviewing these units to ensure they are functioning properly, and adding new sump pumps as needed. We should have up-to-date data related to this in the coming months, which will help us prepare for additional climate change and react against future storms like the one that occurred that weekend.”

Menotomy Manor Tenant Association

Under the general public portion of the agenda, Lisa Hersey disputed Preston’s concerns that the tenants’ association’s “English proficiency” requirement for board officers was discriminatory. Hersey said that “We are strongly encouraging bilingual people. It would be fabulous if we could have bilingual people.”

Hersey said that the group had worked closely with Jack Cooper, of the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, to develop the language and outline of the nomination forms.

Reached by phone by YourArlington for clarification, Cooper said, “I’m very impressed with what they [the Menotomy Manor organizers] are doing. In some ways, they’ve been abused over the years.” But with regards to the English-language requirement, Cooper said that, “There can’t be any barriers to the election process.”

He said the nomination forms were edited to remove the English-proficiency language, and will be distributed to manor residents by next week.

Tenant rep, gubernatorial appointment

Current tenant board representative Fiorella Badilla is one of eight tenant residents who submitted their names for the five-year appointment, which is expected to be decided at the Aug. 9 Select Board meeting.

All AHA applicants are asked to submit written statements before then. Board members will then interview the applicants at the Aug. 9 meeting, with board Chair Steve DeCourcey overseeing the election process.

YourArlington reached out to Jordan Maynard, chief secretary and director, Boards and Commissions under the Baker administration, as well as current board appointee, Brian Connor, for comment as to the status of this position, one of more than 700 appointments a governor can make to public boards and commissions throughout the Commonwealth. Members of the public can also apply to the five-year seat. Current board member Gaar Talanian started his housing authority tenure after he was nominated by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2012, subsequently winning a board seat through a town election. The status of this appointment will be updated when more information is available. 

Meeting adjourns

The agenda-packed meeting ended with the board voting to approve the 2022 annual plan, the minutes from the June 16 annual and housing-choice voucher meetings and the June 23 meeting.

The next meeting is to be held remotely via Zoom at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18.

AHA Board Meeting: Public Participation Guidelines during Zoom Meetings

Arlington Housing Authority logo

Some new rules for the public.

In an effort to conduct the business of the AHA and to maintain an orderly meeting whereby all can hear and understand what is said without being talked over, I would ask that everyone abide by the following guidelines:

Tenant Presidents – Tenant Presidents will be recognized by the chair and do not have to raise a hand or send a chat message.  

I would ask that your presentations are specific only to your facility and the tenants residing in your facility.  I would also ask that any maintenance or building issues are brought up in the monthly maintenance meetings and not during these board meetings.  The director of facilities and his staff are better prepared to answer and resolve any issues you may bring up as the board is not typically able to address these concerns without any additional data or research. 

Tenants – Tenants wishing to speak should send a chat message directly to the Chair with your name, address, and subject you wish to present.  

I would also ask that you refrain from bringing up any building or maintenance issues; these concerns should be brought directly to your presidents who will in-turn bring them up at the maintenance meetings. You can also report any issues directly to the AHA via the phone system. 

As I stated, the reason for this change is facility and maintenance issues can be solved faster by going directly to the maintenance supervisory staff during their monthly meetings. They have the knowledge and skills necessary and can research your concerns or provide the appropriate follow up plan of action.

However, if urgent, or a President or Tenant does not feel their issue has been adequately addressed, or there are privacy concerns, you should send an email directly to Jack Nagle who will follow up with you personally.

General Public -  Anyone wishing to present during public participation should  send a chat message directly to the Chair, stating your name, address, and the subject matter you wish to present.  I will be keeping a running list and recognize you at the appropriate time.  Depending on your subject matter, I may not recognize you tonight but add your subject to the next board meeting’s agenda where we can engage in a more inclusive dialogue and keep in compliance with the open meeting laws.

Board response & Time limits:

Except in unusual circumstances, any matter presented for consideration to the Board shall neither be commented upon by Board Members, nor a decision made the night of the presentation.  If deemed appropriate, in order to conform with the open meeting laws, the subject matter may be added to the next board meeting whereby AHA staff, board and public would have prior notice and can be prepared to address the subject accordingly.

 Speakers will be allowed a three-minute time limit to present.  This may be extended at the discretion of the Chair or if requested by any board member.

July 12, 2021: Tenants’ association at Menotomy Manor takes shape


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Melanie Gilbert was published Wednesday, July 28, 2021.