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A young man talks on the phone outside of The Bronstein Apartments in Nashua, Thursday afternoon. Nashua city officials are beginning to explore plans to get rid of the apartments.
Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nashua has precedent for Bronstein Apartments plans, officials say

NASHUA – Relocating residents from congested, low-income complexes to mixed-income neighborhoods – the plan cited for the Bronstein Apartments on Thursday – is nothing new, city and Nashua Housing Authority officials said Friday.

“Nashua Housing has had success with its smaller scattered sites, many of which the community would not recognize as public housing,” Nashua Housing Authority Executive Director Lynn Censabella said in an email to The Telegraph on Thursday.

“As we continue discussions with the city of Nashua, any plans will carefully take into consideration the needs of low-income families and the community.”

On Thursday, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau told The Telegraph’s editorial board that plans are under way to eventually demolish the public housing units on Central, Myrtle and Pine Streets, which house about 160 of Nashua’s poorest residents.

The concept, which has been under Housing Authority and aldermanic discussion in the past, has gained traction in recent months; officials met with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last November.

HUD awaits a demolition disposition plan from the mayor and the Housing Authority, which must include how or where residents would be relocated. HUD must review and approve the plan before any actions are taken.

“The Nashua Housing Authority and its board of commissioners are committed to providing housing choice to low-income families,” Censabella said. “The authority is in the discussion stage only on options for Bronstein Apartments.

“The process would require resident, agency, city of Nashua and HUD involvement to assure the goal of broadening housing choice for Nashua Housing Authority residents remains a priority.”

Ward 3 Alderman Diane Sheehan, who is involved with initiatives for Nashua’s lower-income residents, cited other instances in which the city has helped underprivileged residents to relocate.

“Mary’s House went under complete renovations, and everybody was re-homed,” Sheehan said, citing a Southern New Hampshire Services effort in which Lozeau also played a role. “It was run down. It was awful. It needed to be completely redone.”

The Bronstein Apartments, owned by the Housing Authority, have 49 two- to five-bedroom units and houses people with incomes as low as 20 percent of the median income level, Housing Authority Commissioner Tom Monahan said.

Living in a congested neighborhood of lower-income neighbors makes some people feel defined by that status, Sheehan said.

“Concentrating people with economic disadvantages creates a lot of other problems,” Sheehan said. “The people that I have talked to that live there don’t feel safe there. It’s not a place where they would choose to live, given different circumstances.”

Large populations of low-income Nashuans reside in other public housing complexes, Sheehan said, but the circumstances often differ from the Bronstein Apartments.

“Some of the other places have a lot of people that are handicapped or elderly,” Sheehan said. “It’s a different mix.”

Sheehan, citing neighborhoods such as French Hill and Railroad Square, said other communities of low-income residents do not experience the same safety fears that Bronstein residents do.

“French Hill had been having trouble, and their Crime Watch has been very active,” Sheehan said. “It’s gotten much better. … By people saying, ‘I don’t feel safe,’ that’s when things get fixed.”

The Bronstein neighborhood, however, hasn’t been as fortunate, Sheehan said.

“Feeling safe in your home is important, and the police have worked very hard,” Sheehan said. “There’s just too much of a concentration” at Bronstein Apartments.

Cities have long recognized a need to mix income levels when housing residents, Sheehan said, but she pointed to the riot and stabbing in the Bronstein neighborhood last summer as another incident that called for change.

“It certainly didn’t help, I can say that much,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said the city has plenty of options for relocating the Bronstein residents to live with neighbors of higher-income levels if the demolition ultimately goes through.

“If you look at Clocktower Place, that’s mixed income,” Sheehan said. “There’s Section 8 residents, people paying a mixed market rate.

“It’s just that’s where you live. There’s no stigma. There’s a stigma when you say you live in Bronstein Apartments.”

Cotton Mill Square housing, slated to be built with 50 low-income Section 8 units this spring, will provide another option for Bronstein residents if they’re relocated, Sheehan said.

“It’s very scary for people to be moved. I get that, and I don’t envy that situation,” Sheehan said. “I think it behooves us to handle this in a very, very sensitive way, and I’m not the only one who has these concerns. I believe the mayor shares them.”

Sheehan, a member of the city’s Infrastructure Committee, said the issue first came up under some aldermanic discussion last year.

“It was at a meeting that it was floated as a possible thing that was being looked at by the feds,” Sheehan said. “This, to them, is an ongoing cost. It costs no matter where somebody lives, and when it’s not working, on top of being expensive, it’s trying to look at something and say, ‘What can we do differently?’ ”

On Thursday, Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire, a Housing Authority liaison, said the Bronstein Apartment plans had been discussed mainly between the Housing Authority and city administration.

“I understood that there has been discussion, but there hasn’t been a lot of discussion with me,” Wilshire said.

Sheehan said waiting lists for housing and Section 8 vouchers, which have been mentioned as alternatives for relocated Bronstein residents, will greatly affect the time frame on any demolition plans.

“This is not going to be an immediate thing,” Sheehan said. “There’s a lot of concern and I’m happy to see that, because I think it’s important that people are sensitive that these are people living there.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).