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Staff Photo by Grant Morris

Between buildings of The Bronstein Apartments in Nashua, seen at left and right, there is a small playground. Nashua city officials are beginning to explore plans to get rid of the apartments.
Thursday, April 19, 2012

Housing Authority planning one-on-one meetings with Bronstein residents

NASHUA – Residents of the Bronstein Apartments soon will get answers about the future of their homes.

One-on-one meetings are in the works for residents of the public housing complex to explain the process should their homes be approved for demolition, Nashua Housing Authority executive director Lynn Censabella said Wednesday.

In the next week or so, she said Housing Authority staff members will begin contacting residents to set up meeting times and places to discuss their concerns based on what is most conducive to the needs of each family.

“I can tell you that I’ve met with my staff in house who will be meeting with residents individually probably over the next couple of weeks to begin speaking about the future plans and what the future will look like for Bronstein potentially,” Censabella said.

It was in a February interview with The Telegraph’s editorial board that Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said the Bronstein Apartments were being eyed for potential demolition.

Lozeau said the city and the Housing Authority had been meeting with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to put plans into motion.

Since then, residents and a nonprofit group have questioned why more information has not been provided about the demolition plans and what the relocation options for Bronstein residents would be.

Lozeau has since said she spoke about the plans prematurely.

“I needed to get my staff on board,” Censabella said. “I had to have them understand what the future of Bronstein could look like. I don’t want to just send staff out to speak with families without the proper information being relayed. It’s a process, and I wanted to make sure we do it correctly the first time.”

Part of the process involves crafting a questionnaire that staffers will be using to gauge the individual needs and wants of each family if they are to be moved, she said.

An interpreter also was recruited to allow Housing Authority staff to be able to communicate with non-English speaking residents.

Despite some recent outcry about the lack of information available, the Housing Authority, which owns the apartments, had not heard any complaints or concerns from its tenants, Censabella said.

The Housing Authority has included the potential relocation of Bronstein residents in its annual plan for years, she said, and had submitted two disposition applications unsuccessfully. At the time, the organization had discussed the prospect with all 48 families that lived there.

“There are many families still in place at the Bronstein Apartments that were a part of and had participated in some of these meetings that happened years ago, so there’s many families there” that were aware this was a possibility, Censabella said.

The Housing Authority has long flagged Bronstein for possible disposition because of its layout.

“We just felt that 48 units of family housing, on 4 acres of land in the center of the Tree Streets, which tends to be highly concentrated with low-income, multifamily homes, it’s just not an ideal spot for public housing to be located,” Censabella said. “It has nothing to do with crime rates. Our crime rates are actually quite low.”

Lozeau and Housing Authority Commissioner Tom Monahan have said the urban renewal effort that prompted the congested development in the 1960s no longer serves the people that live there overcrowded, feeling defined by their income level.

“I would love to see families living in Bronstein in some smaller, scattered sites,” Censabella said, “Which I think a lot of people here in the community wouldn’t even recognize as public housing.”

Options at other public housing units dispersed around the city would allow Bronstein residents to have their own driveways, yards and gardens, Censabella said.

“The smaller condo-looking, duplex-style units, those tend to be our most successful properties because people feel a sense of ownership,” she added.

Other people could use Section 8 or project-based vouchers to take advantage of housing developments with private landlords, where the Housing Authority would continue to support and subsidize a portion of their rent.

“Nothing would change as far as how much they’re paying out of pocket for their rent,” Censabella said. The rent is based on 30 percent of residents’ annual adjusted income, with the Housing Authority subsidizing the remaining portion.

The 48 units on Myrtle, Central and Pine streets comprise two- to five-bedroom units.

To ensure that every family’s needs are met will take some time, however, Censabella said, based on the number of vouchers that are available for residents and available housing opportunities.

“If a family chooses to live in another public housing unit, and they live in a three-bedroom unit, we need to wait for another three-bedroom unit,” she said.

The Housing Authority also needs to make sure that it can afford to support the number of Section 8 vouchers that residents may request in the relocation.

Some of those residents may already be on a waiting list to take advantage of Section 8 vouchers to move out of Bronstein, Censabella added.

“There’s going to be a lot of housing choice involved in this,” she added. “We want to make sure that families know and understand that they have a choice and it’s not the Housing Authority saying to them, ‘You have to live here.’”

Part of the time frame also depends on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Censabella said, which requires numerous applications before any progress in the demolition plans takes place.

The hope is to start moving people out of the Bronstein Apartments by 2013, she said, and over time, to get all 48 families relocated where they want to be.

“It will not be a mass exodus,” Censabella said. “That’s the one thing we would want to prevent.”

Every family that is relocated will receive assistance through the process, as required by HUD, she said.

“We will not be forcing anyone to anyone leave,” Censabella added. “We will not be evicting anyone in order to empty units over there. This is going to take probably a couple of years before everyone of those units could be emptied.”

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