As a new executive director was selected for the Natick Housing Authority late last week, the state announced a program that would give the Natick authority $255,000 to fix up 28 vacant units, the second highest number of units to be renovated among the 33 agencies taking part in the program.
Fitchburg at 41 vacant units has the highest number of units to refurbish under the program, while Worcester with 26 vacant units was listed at number three.
The program is providing $2.2 million in grant money to the housing authorities to make repairs to vacant units so they can be rented. Units eligible for renovations must have capital repair costs ranging between $2,500 and $25,000, and the grants would be doled out in reimbursements after completion, the state said.
But state officials also made it clear that to accept the funding, the units paid for with the grants would have to be filled by March 31. The state also announced it would introduce a new blanket policy starting Jan. 1 that would withhold state subsidies for units vacant for more than 60 days.
The news of the new state program and policy came as the Natick authority's Board of Directors announced that Dover resident Anne Reitmayer has been offered the job as the authority's new executive director.
The 28 vacant units in Natick to be repaired under the grant is just under half of the 67 total vacant units overseen by the housing authority. Currently, of the 422 units the Natick Housing Authority oversees, about 59 of the vacant 67 units have been empty for more than 60 days, according to data the authority provides the state.
The Natick Housing Authority board’s chairwoman, Gina Govoni, said even though the state funding comes with caveats, she thinks the grants and the new vacancy policy being introduced will help the town repair several units for reoccupation.
“It’s a concern,” she said of the state’s new vacancy stipulations, “but I’d like to look at this as an opportunity and an incentive to get moving. I think it will help more than hinder.”
Natick Housing Authority’s acting executive director, Eileen Merritt, who took over for Santos in fall 2011, did not return multiple calls to comment.
Reitmayer said she did not want to comment since job negotiations were not yet final.
The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development also said in the face of its new vacancy policy, it would provide support and technical assistance to housing authorities that face legitimate roadblocks to timely re-occupancy.
“Affordable public housing is in high demand across the state,” said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the department, in a statement. “These additional funds dedicated to turnover costs will provide local housing authorities with new tools and funding to more quickly house seniors and families looking for affordable housing.”
The vacant turnover initiative is one part of a broader strategy being implemented to reform the state’s public housing system, according to the department. Other reforms have included requiring local housing authorities to provide the state with salaries of the five highest-paid management staff, as well as setting a maximum salary for local housing authority executive directors.
There are currently about 1,734 vacant state-aided public housing units in Massachusetts, the majority of which are in various stages of turnover for re-occupancy. Less than 5 percent of total state-aided public housing units in the state are vacant, according to the department.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org