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State delivers $1.3m in aid for housing

Five local public housing authorities have received a combined $1.3 million from the state Department of Housing and Community Development to rehabilitate apartments for low-income families and the elderly, or to offer employment training and services for residents.

The Revere Housing Authority received $865,000 to rebuild 14 apartments for families located in five multifamily properties on Hichborn, Nahant, and Thornton streets. The Rockport Housing Authority received $72,500 to renovate two units of long-vacant family housing.

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Wilmington received $65,000 to renovate a single family home. The Tyngsborough Housing Authority received $55,000 to convert a four-bedroom elderly unit into two, one-bedroom apartments, according to the state.

The Somerville Housing Authority received $258,700 to launch MassLEAP, an acronym for the Massachusetts Learning Education and Assets Program. During the next five years, 50 residents will receive financial help, such as job training, to boost their income and eventually move on from public housing. The authority has partnered with three nonprofit organizations to offer the services, the state said.

A top state housing official said the grants — more than $5 million awarded to 20 housing authorities statewide — will boost long-term efforts to expand the state’s public housing stock.

“Public housing is a critical resource for low-income families and seniors,” Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of Housing and Community Development, said in an interview. “It’s a safety net for a range of people. We can’t afford to lose any units.”

Since 2007, the state has invested $100 million to renovate 550 rental units across Massachusetts, Gornstein said.

MassLEAP — which was created on the recommendation of a state task force to reform public housing — is a key part of the expansion plan, Gornstein said.

“I think it’s going to be great for the tenants,” he said.

“Once they’re able, after several years, to increase their income, they may be able to move on to private housing, and that would free up more [public] housing.”

Katie Ferri, a resident coordinator at Somerville Housing, said the authority has run a program similar to MassLEAP at its federally funded public housing developments. But there were never funds available to offer it at state-funded housing complexes.

“We’ve seen the success our residents have had before, “ Ferri said. “A number of people have moved on to home ownership, or gotten full-time jobs.”

Residents will get help learning to save money, manage debt, and choose training or educational programs that will lead them to a good job, Ferri said.

The housing grants are not intended to cover the total cost of any renovation. Most local authorities have set aside money from their capital repair budgets, and other sources, to help pay for the cost.

But local housing officials said the new grants are essential to return long-vacant units to their housing stock, and chip away at long waiting lists. People eligible for public housing must earn 80 percent or less of the median income for the area, according to state regulations.

“We have demand now that we can’t meet,” said George M. Anzuoni, chairman of the Revere Housing Authority, which has 1,100 names on its waiting list. “This is the largest grant we’ve ever gotten. It’s going to enable us, finally, to get all of our units [available for occupancy].”

Wilmington plans to renovate a single-family home that has been vacant since 2006, said Maureen Hickey, executive director of the Wilmington Housing Authority.

“It’s really going to be a great opportunity for a family,” Hickey said. The authority will spend $40,000 in capital improvement funds on the project, she said.

Tyngsborough will use its grant to modernize a four-bedroom apartment for elderly residents. The town will also spend $20,000 of its operating funds, said Melinda Theide, executive director of the Tyngsborough Housing Authority.

The four-bedroom unit was built years ago, at a time when shared living space was in style. But the unit has since proven hard to rent, Theide said. “We were having a difficult time finding people who wanted to move into an apartment with some shared space. So instead of it sitting vacant, we decided to convert it to two one-bedroom apartments.”

An architect soon will be hired, and the work should be completed within the fiscal year that starts July 1, Theide said.

Housing officials in Rockport could not be reached for comment.

In Revere, the Housing Authority’s maintenance crew is already at work preparing homes on Nahant and Thornton streets for makeovers.

“There is a lot wrong with these properties,” said Linda Shaw, the authority’s executive director. “They all need new bathrooms and kitchens.”

The six-unit property at 168-170 Hichborn St. is boarded up, in need of major capital repairs, Shaw said.

“It needs a new roof. The siding is falling off. The porches are failing,” she said.

Public bids will be issued for private contractors to perform major construction, Shaw said.

The authority last year renovated three properties on Dana and Shirley streets, which may have helped persuade the state to invest in Revere, Shaw said.

“I think the state had confidence in our ability to get this done in a timely fashion and within budget,” she said.

The grant will cover just over half of the total $1.6 million renovation costs. The balance will be paid through the authority’s funds for lead paint deleading, maintenance, and other accounts.

“This was very creatively financed,” said Anzuoni. “We’re taking money out of different pots to do this. When we’re done, we’ll finally meet our goal of having our units fully rented.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.
com
. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.
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