SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 19, 2014

Housing agencies struggle to make repairs

BOSTON — Waiting lists for public housing are growing across the state as housing agencies facing backlogs of repairs shelve plans for new units.

In Gloucester, more than 800 applicants are waiting to get into public housing. Officials say they have a list of $14 million in needed repairs — for leaking roofs, cracked sidewalks and other projects — but expect only $2 million from the state over the next five years.

“It’s a big gap, and we’re doing a lot of triage to figure out the most pressing needs,” said David Houlden, executive director of the Gloucester Housing Authority. “We’ve been trying to maintain properties we have with limited federal and state resources, but it gets more difficult every year.”

Lawmakers last year approved a $1.4 billion bond bill, filed by Gov. Deval Patrick, to improve public housing throughout the state. That includes $500 million for renovations and remodeling over the next five years, as well as a program to help 240 local agencies improve housing supplies and build new housing.

Housing officials said money helps, but a backlog of repairs is large and getting bigger.

“I give them credit for trying to address it, but the problem is that most of the public housing stock is more than 50 years old, and there isn’t enough money to go around,” said Dominic O’Neill, executive director of the Lawrence Housing Authority, which manages 1,500 subsidized apartments. “I’ve been here 30 years, and this is the worst it’s ever been.”

Thomas Connelly, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment, said the bond bill represents progress.

“We’ve been behind the eight-ball for a long time, but we’re finally starting to get the support we need,” he said.

Connelly’s group, which represents hundreds of local housing agencies, backs legislation to provide another $500 million over the next five years to develop state-owned land for housing.

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