ayra Cruz, LinkedInMayra Cruz, new assistant executive director

AHA logo'Really excited to bring her on board.'
-- Jack Nagle

As board elects all males

For the first time since its founding in 1948, the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA) has hired a Latina to an executive-level leadership position. The board of commissioners welcomed Mayra Cruz as the new assistant executive director at its April 21 board meeting.

“[Mayra] has extensive experience in housing authorities, which includes Boston and Cambridge,” said Executive Director Jack Nagle. “We’re really excited to bring her on board to work toward our goals and initiatives.”

Cruz joins the housing authority at a time when it is embarking on extensive and expensive building renovation and rehabilitation projects across its aging senior and family-housing portfolio.

Cruz embraces teamwork, ‘diversity’

Her professional background includes more than a decade of working in public housing at two of the Commonwealth’s largest public-housing agencies. She was an assistant director of occupancy for the Boston Housing Authority and a leasing officer at the Cambridge Housing Authority. (The AHA ranks 26 out of 240 Massachusetts' local housing authorities, with a total of 1,144 subsidized units, according to the town’s 2021 Fair Housing Action Plan.)

During her online meet-and-greet, Cruz said that collaboration and diversity animate her public-mission work. “I’m very excited to work alongside Jack, with the board, the local tenant associations, and the whole team. I embrace diversity, and I’m very passionate about affordable housing. I look forward to being of assistance and helping any way that I can.”

Cruz brings language diversity, too. She is bilingual in English and Spanish. Nearly 70 AHA residents identify as Latino, or 6 percent of the total resident population, and Spanish is a widely spoken language in the state. She joins board commissioner Fiorella Badilla and Menotomy Manor Co-vice president, Marta Cayarga in being able to communicate directly with residents whose native proficiency is Spanish.

Men dominate board positions

Despite the diversity represented by the front office, the new board officers feature an all-male slate. The positions of chair, vice chair and treasurer are elected during the annual April board meeting.

Brian Connor was unanimously reelected as chair; Gaar Talanian was elected as vice chair in a divisive vote replacing Jo Anne Preston; and Nick Mitropoulos took over for Talanian as treasurer.  

During the nominee statements, Talanian, a senior vice president of residential lending at Dedham Savings Bank, touted his banking expertise, saying, “My expertise with construction, lending and building is placed well with what we do at the AHA. I’m very adept at budgets, and that’s why I feel I’m qualified to be vice chair.” Talanian was nominated by Mitropoulos, which was seconded by Connor.

Badilla nominated Preston for the position, with Preston seconding her own nomination. She highlighted her community-building skills, saying that in her campaign for commissioner two years ago, she ran on a platform of outreach and resources.

“I ran on serving the tenants. I’ve attended all town committee and board meetings that were related to the AHA. I worked with Jack Cooper of Mass. Union of Public Housing Tenants so that he could help reform the Menotomy Manor Tenant Association. Last year, I was voted by this committee to be vice chair, and I would like to continue in that position.”

Preston lost the vote to Talanian, 3-2, split along gender lines.

Nonprofit solicits donations

The regular board meeting included an update on the Arlington Housing Authority Charitable Foundation. According to the filing, which was approved in March, the purpose of the corporation is “to provide support and outreach for the social, health, and well-being of those persons residing in the Arlington Housing Authority properties.”

In an email to YourArlington, Connor wrote that “state funds are scarce, and we must direct them towards the upkeep of the properties. [This foundation], which is totally separate from the AHA, [will be] seeking grants and other donations such as condos and homes from those wishing to support true low-income housing.”

All members of the current board, as well as Mariann Donovan, a resident of the AHA’s Hauser building, are listed as both officers and directors of the new nonprofit.

Connor also wrote that “we are hoping Jo Anne, who no longer has the responsibilities of vice chair [of the AHA board], will concentrate her energy on soliciting grants for the foundation.” Preston, who serves as the AHA representative to the town’s Community Preservation Act Committee, supported the committee’s allocation of $600,000 to the Menotomy Manor window-replacement project, as well as $200,000 for the Hauser Building emergency electrical panel upgrade.

State funding insufficient to meet resident needs

With state funds dedicated to rehabilitation and modernization projects, the AHA nonprofit could raise money to develop housing projects by partnering with developers to build and manage affordable housing in Arlington -- much like the Housing Corporation of Arlington has done with its Downing Square Broadway Initiative.

That’s the approach David Hedison, executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority, took nearly 20 years ago. The authority transferred its housing portfolio to its nonprofit, Choice Opportunities for Intergenerational and Community Endeavors Inc., through a board vote.

In conjunction with the housing authority, the nonprofit not only develops low-income and affordable-housing projects in Chelmsford, but it provides for the social-emotional and wellness support to its housing residents, such as on-site beauty salons, meal and brown-bag lunch programs, holistic healing centers, a free prescription-delivery service and many other resident-centered outreach programs.

According to its Form 990 filing, the Chelmsford nonprofit showed gross receipts of $1.8 million and assets totaling nearly $18 million. The executive director of the organization reported compensation of more than $131,000 plus expenses.

Climate-change, community initiatives

The board approved Nagle’s request to hire a structural engineer to evaluate the balconies at Chestnut Manor for placing heat-pump devices. It’s the first step in qualifying the building for a $1 million state-funded program to cut energy costs.

“[The state] says there’s a 20- to 30-percent energy savings on both heat and air-conditioning,” said Nagle, indicating discussions he had had with state officials on the incentive project.

He added that “we’re advocating for other sites to be considered. We’re hoping we can include as many of our developments for the different types of energy-efficiency projects that could be on the table.” Gas and electric utilities in the senior-housing buildings are paid for by the authority; residents at Menotomy Manor pay their own gas and electric bills.

The authority had nearly $800,000 in electricity and $81,000 in gas expenses in fiscal 2020. A 20- to 30-percent energy reduction because of propertywide heat-pump installation at the senior-housing complexes, could result in future savings of at least $200,000.

Nagle thanked Arlington EATS for a $5,000 donation, to be used to bring rain barrels to the properties and to help offset the costs of building raised-bed gardens for handicapped accessibility.

Tenant organization meetings

In response to tenant requests for more staff engagement with community building and maintenance concerns, Nagle has scheduled monthly one-on-one meetings to be attended by the local tenant organization representatives and himself, as well as maintenance and property management staff.

Winslow Tower President Pam Hauser said the community recently held their first gathering since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, celebrating an Italian Night dinner attended by 42 of the 139 residents.

Menotomy Manor President Jen Hernandez thanked the board and staff for organizing a scavenger hunt for the children of the family-housing complex in East Arlington. 

And Ellen Leigh asked whether the housing authority will hold Covid booster clinics as it has in the past.

“I’m looking at well-being in terms of boosters. Boosters is something that has been recommended for the elderly or people with medical conditions, and I’m wondering if there is anything planned to help make it easier and more likely that residents do get a booster,” asked Leigh. Connor replied, “I think, yes. That’s something we’ll look into and we’ll try to do that.”

The AHA held successful Covid-vaccine clinics in the senior-housing buildings in December.

The board tabled approval of the March meeting minutes after a transcribing objections by Badilla, before voting to adjourn. 

The next meeting of the AHA is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 19

March 23, 2019: Tenant president, representative flex authority

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Melanie Gilbert was published Tuesday, April 26, 2022.