By Jack Minch
The Leominster Housing Authority, which also manages the Lunenburg and Sterling housing authorities, is negotiating to manage the Fitchburg Housing Authority, officials said Monday as two key housing lawmakers visited Sunset Towers for a fact-finding meeting.
Officials said they don’t expect to reach an agreement between the cities for a couple of weeks.
Leominster has about 960 housing units, including about 400 Section 8 housing choice vouchers.
Fitchburg would add another 800 housing units.
“The committee is trying to determine what is the right level of regionalization, what is the sweet spot,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, who visited Sunset Towers with Rep. Kevin Honan, a Democrat from Brighton.
They are co-chairmen of the Legislature’s joint Committee on Housing, which is reviewing reform bills for housing authorities in the aftermath of the Chelsea scandal last year.
Eldridge and Honan attended a similar meeting at the Acton Housing Authority on Monday afternoon. They plan to hold several meetings around the state this summer to collect information to incorporate into a report that will be part of any bill coming out of their committee, Eldridge said.
“We’re meeting with a lot of advocates in Boston but wanted to meet tenants and staff,” he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick has submitted legislation to create six regional housing authorities for the state.
Rep. Dennis Rosa, a Leominster Democrat, sat with Eldridge and Honan, and has submitted legislation on behalf of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Official for smaller regions that supporters said will be more manageable than those proposed by the governor.
Fitchburg Housing Director Ryan McNutt said the city has deferred maintenance on its public housing units, and the ability to respond to problems in the future is important.
He has been impressed by Leominster Housing Authority Executive Director Gene Capoccia’s regional model, which provides economies of scale to keep costs down. McNutt said he believes Patrick’s plan is too broad.
“Fitchburg has had some challenges, and we’ve looked around at successful models,” McNutt said.
Honan was interested in the best way of educating housing-authority board members about leading their agencies.
LHA board Chairman Gregg Lisciotti said it is important for mayors or boards of selectmen to appoint the appropriate people to the housing-authority boards, and a simple informational DVD would be easy to put together and would be helpful.
In past years, the state sent teams to housing authorities to review operations for three or four days at a time.
Leominster hasn’t been reviewed since 1997, Capoccia said.
Bob Kneeland, vice chairman of the Sterling board, said his governing body has maintained local control even though it hires LHA to manage its 40 apartments.
Marcia Fregeau, of Lunenburg, said living conditions at the Lunenburg Housing Authority’s Pearl Brook Apartments improved after Leominster took over management.
Despite the increased size of administrative responsibilities, the Leominster Housing Authority remains responsive to tenants and their problems, she said.
“You make a call, and it is done,” Fregeau said. “You would think with so many (units) there would be waiting, but it’s done like that.”
When Linda and Gerald Leger, of Lunenburg, moved into Pearl Brook, it was in disrepair, but the LHA fixed porches, improved landscaping, and paved roads and the parking lot, they said.
They like Leominster’s regional housing-authority model but don’t want the governor’s model.
“I’m afraid if it becomes really big and regionalized, we wouldn’t be able to call in a work order,” Linda Leger said.
Rosemary Mathieu, of Sterling, said she has raised concerns about where tenants should go if there is a tornado, and has not received a satisfactory response. Also, she has a closet door that has needed replacement and a light fixture that has needed repair for two years.
Kathy Delachiae, of Leominster, said that after listening during the hearing, she prefers the local model of regionalization where response times to problems are likely to be shorter.
Christine Palermo, who has lived in a family unit with her two children in Lunenburg for about 10 years, said she appreciates the level of service despite the regional structure.
The pilot light went out on her water heater during a snowstorm last winter, but it was repaired within a couple of days, Palermo said.
“If it wasn’t localized, I might have waited a week,” she said.
Tom Mammone, of Spruce Street, said he has taken umbrage at the staff’s compassion levels after he was wrongly accused of having a gun in his home.
Even the ability to air dirty laundry in public is a testament to the LHA, Honan said.
“It’s so important your residents feel free to talk about these subjects in public,” he said.
Lunenburg Housing Authority Chairwoman Liz Murphy and Tilly Ryan, aide to Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat, also took part in the discussion.