The increasingly expensive Arlington housing market has Brian Connor’s creative and competitive juices flowing, as the longtime board member and current chair of Arlington’s Housing Authority (AHA), has been reappointed for a third five-year term.
“The only way to increase truly affordable housing in Arlington is for the AHA to expand its footprint and build new housing opportunities,” Connor wrote in an email response to queries from YourArlington. “Our rents are calculated on 28- to 30-percent of an individual’s or family’s income. This allows someone with very little income to live in Arlington.”
The AHA is a state agency that provides rental housing to low-income, elderly and disabled residents, recognizes the challenges of continuing to provide and develop affordable housing in a town with scarce land reserves and an exploding real estate market.
Chosen by Gov. Baker
His opportunity to be bold was strengthened this week, when Connor was appointed to another five-year term, by Gov. Baker. First appointed by then-Gov. Romney in 2006 and by Baker in 2016, Connor fills a position that is one of 700 gubernatorial appointments to boards across the Commonwealth in policy areas such as education, judicial, public safety and transportation.
“I was encouraged to join the housing board by one of Arlington’s great leaders, Jack Cusack,” Connor wrote. “Jack was a state representative for Arlington for many years, and chaired the state’s Housing Committee. He was instrumental in getting funds to build many of the developments in Arlington, and was very passionate about senior and public housing.”
That public housing includes Cusack Terrace, a five-story complex with 67 one-bedroom units that was constructed in 1983 for the elderly and disabled. It was named for the former legislator, who died in 2014, and who was a Town Meeting member and formerly chaired the housing authority.
Leadership changes, not mission
Connor, with Vice Chair Jo Anne Preston; Treasurer Gaar Talanian; Nick Mitropoulos and tenant representative Fiorella Badilla, collectively bring almost 50 years of experience to the housing board. That stability is important now that longtime executive director John Griffin is on an indefinite personal leave. Operations manager Jack Nagle was appointed interim director in April, and he inherits a sprawling and aging portfolio of properties that more than 1,000 residents call home.
Pam Hauser, Winslow Tower Tenant Association president, wrote that Connor is “one of the smartest people I know. He runs great meetings, knows what he’s talking about and is willing to go the extra mile for tenants.”
Infrastructure needs consume resources
In recent years, the authority has embarked on major infrastructure-repair projects. They include window replacements, balcony resurfacing, handicap-accessible modifications, elevator upgrades, fire-safety improvements, major mechanical repairs to boilers, heaters, sump pumps, sewers as well as ongoing work to routine maintenance issues, such as sidewalks, parking lots and interior/exterior living spaces.
“The board and the executive director need to continue investing in and renovating our properties and grounds,” Connor wrote. “We have received over $25-million dollars in various grants and other funding opportunities to renovate our properties. We need to continue doing that.”
Alicia Jones, a Menotomy Manor resident and a member of the committee organizing the tenants’ association, agrees there is lots of work to do, but feels the family housing complex in East Arlington needs more support from the housing authority.
“We’re on a mission to shake things up. Part of that is seeking accountability for the conditions of the homes in Menotomy Manor. Families deserve to live in homes that are not falling apart,” she wrote.
The manor, the oldest complex of the housing authority’s properties, has longstanding problems with the foundations, insulation, infestation and faulty windows. Nagle and the board approved a $40,000 window study in the 2022 budget, the first step in a long process of funding this multimillion-dollar repair.
At July's board meeting, Nagle indicated he was aware of the impact of long funding cycles on residents’ quality-of-life concerns, saying that Preston “has been helping to determine outside funding opportunities [versus projects funded solely through the Department of Housing and Community Development]. We will continue to seek outside grants and other resources for [the Menotomy Manor] window project.”
Tenant, board collaboration
Connor notes that “while there is a lot of work,” he remains confident that “the board [will] be instrumental in assisting all our developments.” He envisions “vibrant tenant associations that will provide opportunities for all residents.”
The lifelong Arlingtonian remains optimistic that the housing authority will play an important role in the town’s housing future and continue to champion the lives of the residents it serves.
“It is an honor to work with a great group of dedicated employees and tenants,” he wrote.
The Arlington Housing Authority meets the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. Meetings are via Zoom and can be accessed from the website.
This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Melanie Gilbert was published Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.