UPDATED, March 19: The past year has been marked by lockdowns, restrictions, “bubbles,” masks, social distancing and remote-platform meetings - just a few of the impacts of the pandemic on everyday life.
In contrast, the conversations in Arlington during this same difficult period have focused on inclusion and accessibility – in housing, social and economic justice and the representation of diverse voices in the town’s policies and leadership.
YourArlington spoke with Kelda Fontenot, a Precinct 7 resident, about her candidacy for a seat on the board of the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA), a state public-housing agency that operates several housing-assistance programs for seniors, persons with disabilities and persons of low income.
More than 1,500 Arlington residents, including 400 children, live in AHA properties: four senior-housing complexes; the Menotomy Manor housing development; subsidized housing units and Section 8 rental-assistance.Fontenot, in her first run for public office, is seeking to unseat] longtime board member and current chairman, Nicholas Mitropoulos. Asked her age, she said she is in her 30s.
Precinct 1 Town Meeting member Steve Revilak knows of Fontenot through the Facebook group, Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors, a group that "stands up for secure, abundant homes for everyone." “She strikes me as someone who has the lived experience of struggling with housing, and brings that important perspective to the board,” he said.To let the public know who she is, Fontenot answered some questions.
Q: Kelda, tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I was born and raised in New Orleans, La., and moved to Arlington in 2016 to finish my undergraduate education. My husband and I are raising two children; a preschooler and a sixth grader.
Why would anyone leave the Big Easy?
(Laughs) A friend of mine once said, it’s not easy living in paradise. I moved out East to finish my bachelor’s degree. I applied to the Berklee School of Music, and, as a backup, applied to Harvard, which accepted me.
What do you do for a living?
Well, before the pandemic, I was an international tour manager for jazz bands. I have a degree in jazz piano; I play the flute, rhythm guitar and the drums. I’ve also been a back-up singer for blues groups. But, right now, I’m an ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher.
Why are you running for a seat on the board of the Housing Authority?
I’ve experienced housing insecurity, and I recognize the importance of the issue. My lived experience made me an advocate on housing issues. When I speak to current Housing Authority residents, they tell me about the problems they have with communicating with the board and difficulty in attending meetings – how they feel excluded from the process.
If elected, what would your priorities be?
I have three main priorities.My number one priority: Improve communication between residents, the board members and the employees. They need to respond to phone calls and emails.
Two: Transparency and accountability. The Housing Authority needs to share information about issues that impact residents like the budget, maintenance schedules and capital improvements.
And three: Building healthy relationships between the residents and the Housing Authority. Healthy housing means a healthy community. I’d like to see informal chats between the board and the residents. Other town agencies, like the School Committee, hold "coffee chats" – meetings outside of official business meetings to get to know residents.
Why run for office now?
Good question. The pandemic has really brought people who already are living close to the edge of being homeless to our attention. They’re not so invisible, now. The issues of eviction, the housing crisis, the economic and social-justice conversations, the costs of housing – these issues are hitting home, it’s becoming visible in the news and in our community.
Even if you never need housing assistance from the Housing Authority, the residents are our neighbors. For instance, Menotomy Manor is a Housing Authority property. It represents nearly 179 of the most diverse families in Arlington, including 400 children. You can’t exclude their voices in the housing conversation.
Any last thoughts you want to share?
The reason we should all care about the Arlington Housing Authority is because its residents are all part of our community – they are our neighbors. And if elected, I will elevate their voices.
She has been endorsed by Arlington Fights Racism.
Arlington Community Media Inc. (ACMi) plans a series of candidate election profiles as well as virtual debates on many of the contested elections including the Select Board, Board of Assessors, and the Housing Authority. And the League of Women's Voters of Arlington has scheduled a Candidates' Night on Wednesday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m.
Arlington’s town elections are Saturday, April 10. The final day to request absentee ballots is Friday, March 19. Polls open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Check the town website for your polling location.
Meet the candidate nights
Sunday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m., includes Town Meeting candidates in Precincts 8, 9 Zoom meeting >>
Tuesday, March 23, 7:30 p.m., includes Town Meeting candidates in Precincts 12, 14, 20 Zoom meeting >>
Thursday, March 25, 7:30 p.m., invitation open to all Town Meeting members to meeet Fontenot Zoom meeting >>
Sunday, March 28, 7:30 p.m., "Housing as a Public Health Crisis" Zoom meeting >>
Tuesday, April 6, 7:30 p.m., "Structure and Importance of AHA” Zoom meeting >>
This news profile was published Tuesday, March 16, 2021, and updated the same day to change the headline; on March 18, to add website; and on March 19, to add meetings.
NOTE: YourArlington requests introductory statements from the campaigns of all candidates for major offices in the April town election. Please include a current photo (head shot). These statements are expected to be updated as the campaigns progress. Send to sprague.bob at gmail.com.