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Town Administrator Jay Green explains how the Memorial Building will house the Council on Aging to Housing Secretary Edward Augustus Jr. during a tour of the Adams Housing Authority with Executive Director William Schrade.
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Augustus is visiting all 242 housing authorities in the state.
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Housing Secretary Makes Adams Housing Authority No. 40 on List of Visits

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Executive Director William Schrade invited Secretary Edward Augustus to the rededication of the Housing Authority's Community Room, providing a chance for the secretary to hear about the authority's successes and challenges. 
ADAMS, Mass. — The state's new secretary of housing got a bit of a rock-star welcome on Wednesday morning as Adams Housing Authority residents, board members and staff lined up to get their picture taken with him. 
Edward Augustus Jr. was invited to join the Adams Housing Authority in the rededication of its renovated community room, named for James P. McAndrews, the authority's first executive director. 
Executive Director William Schrade said he was surprised that the secretary had taken up the invitation but Augustus said he's on a mission — to visit every housing authority in the state. 
"The next logical question is how many housing authorities are there in Massachusetts? There's 242 of them so I get a lot of driving left to do," he laughed. "This is number 40. You're in the first tier I've been able to visit but to me, it's one way for me to understand what's actually going on."
The former state senator and Worcester city manager was appointed secretary of housing and livable communities — the first cabinet level housing chief in 30 years — by Gov. Maura Healey last year as part of her answer to the state's housing crisis. 
He's been leading the charge for the governor's $4 billion Affordable Homes Act that looks to invest $1.6 billion in repairing and modernizing the state's 43,000 public housing units that house some 70,000 low-income, disabled and senior residents, as well as families. 
Massachusetts has the most public housing units and is one of only a few states that support public housing. Numbers range from Boston's tens of thousands of units to Sutton's 40. Adams has 64 one-bedroom units in the Columbia Valley facility and 24 single and multiple-bedroom units scattered through the community.
"The scale could be different but some of the issues and challenges are the same. We need more dollars to do capital repairs," Augustus said. "Many of these facilities have been around for 50 years. ... We need to take some of the older systems out of those buildings, green the buildings, if you will, shrink our carbon footprint in some of these older buildings. 
"As folks age in place, we need to make sure they're accessible. Making sure that we have tub cuts and grab bars and things so that folks can stay here, stay in their homes as long as possible. And do that with dignity and do that in a way that meets their needs."
The Affordable Homes Act would triple the amount of money spent on public housing capitol improvements, he said, from $500 million over five years to $1.6 billion. That means when when a sidewalk or driveway project comes up, the state will have the resources to say yes to more projects. 
That's important for Schrade, who took the secretary on a tour of a renovated unit — and the walkways and steps difficult for residents to navigate. 
"Our pavement hasn't been replaced in over 40 years," he said afterward. "And our parking lot has heaving spots and sinkholes. What we've originally been asking for is money to be able to replace them to become ADA compliant. ...
"In certain parts they're separated by wood in between them so they're trip hazards, and with the average age of my residents being 83 years old, and with more of them using walkers, you have to make sure they're able to stay safe."
The Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities will match 2 1/2 times every $1 from the community for capital projects but Adams' Commununity Development Block Grants are already committed for the next two years. And the authority only gets $100,000 a year for capital funds, meaning it will take five years to save up the funds.
"That means I would have to do no projects for five years just to do that one project," he said.
The authority's started slowly rehabbing units, many of which have their original kitchens from the 1970s. Schrade credited maintenance manager Matthew Puricelli for not only getting the work done but as economically as possible. Puricelli — a one-man band — estimates about 90 percent of repairs and renovations are being done in house. 
"We have to be more creative on how to get the work done," he told Augustus. "But I got to tell you something, we, you know, there's no excuses, we just we get it. ...
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done, but we have a good, have a great, great game plan on how we're going to be able to do it and to be able to get people in."
Schrade and Puricelli say they try to keep units empty for no more than 30 days. There's a waiting list to get in and Schrade later said he gets two or three calls a day. Because of the way the system works, people outside the community often pick Adams just to get on the list but Schrade said they do try to get local people in. 
Augustus said there are some other opportunities within the proposed act to help communities, such as a real estate transaction fee above a certain amount that could generate a half percent for towns toward public housing projects or create a fund for renovations of apartment units in return for rental stabilization.
"If the town had some resources, you could go in and say, 'hey, you need a new roof. We'll loan you the money for the roof, put an affordability restriction on the units and stabilize that naturally occur," the secretary said. "Otherwise we don't have our book with them because there's no public participation in those buildings. So some of those things we're trying to figure out, you know, some new tools in the toolbox."
There are also some reforms for receivership for problem properties that would give a little more leverage to local communities to work with a community development corporation or nonprofit partner to take over some of those properties, Augustus said, in response to a question about zombie houses lingering in Land Court. 
The administration on Thursday will be announcing a community investment tax incentive that would give tax credits for properties donated to CDCs for redevelopment. The incentive has been a temporary measure and the governor is advocating it become permanent. 
 "So it allows companies and businesses that are looking for those tax credits and want to do something good to give it and they get the tax credit in exchange for that," he said. "It's about to expire, and we're upping it from $12 million a year to $15 million a year, so putting more tax credits into more CDCs so they can do some of these smaller-scale projects."
 The secretary was headed for a listening session at Berkshire Community College in the afternoon with local officials and community and business leaders. 
 Schrade said it was exciting and huge accomplishment to have the secretary visit, the first official of that caliber to come to the Housing Authority since its opening.
 "The secretary's office has been quiet for about 30 years. Even before that we didn't have a high-level person come to a small housing authority like Adams," he said. "When we asked the secretary to come and he accepted the invitation, we wanted to make sure we were showing him not the negative things about what we all need, but the positive things we're doing. 
 "We might be small but we will compete with larger housing authorities to be able to get the work that needs to be done to fill these apartments. We don't want these apartments to be vacant, we want to be able to fill them for residents who actually need housing ... in a safe environment."

Tags: housing,   Housing Authority,   state officials,   

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