Meet Blanca Berrios, SHA’s new Section 8 director
She began as a rent collections clerk 10 years ago, and has steadily worked her way up to one of Springfield Housing Authority’s key positions – Blanca Berrios is the new director of the Rental Housing Assistance Program.
Berrios was promoted in May to fill the position left vacant by Joe D’Ascoli, who led the department for 12 years before taking a position as executive director at the Manchester, Conn. Housing Authority.
Prior to her new job running the department here, she was D’Ascoli’s top assistant for the past seven years.
It was great training, by her own accounting.
“I loved working with Joe,” she said. “He was an excellent teacher and mentor. He not only showed me how to do things, he taught me how to find things for myself. We’re still in touch a lot.”
As director of the program run out of Riverview Apartments, Berrios oversees a staff of 20 and manages a portfolio that includes 2,893 Housing Choice Vouchers, or rental assistance given to qualifying residents who live in privately owned apartments, also known as ‘Section 8s.’ As such, SHA’s Rental Housing Assistance program is the third largest in the state and makes up more than half of the local agencies total housing portfolio.
Berrios said she aims to continue earning the high performance scores from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, and to expand programs that will lead residents to greater levels of self-sufficiency, such as the HUD Housing Choice Voucher Homeownership program, English as a second language and computer literacy and job search education.
“I’d love to see more programs where we can help people work towards self-sufficiency,” Berrios said.
SHA Executive Director William H. Abrashkin said Berrios was promoted with good reason.
“Over many years as ‘second in command’ of the Rental Assistance Office, Blanca Berrios has demonstrated mastery of the complex field of assisted housing, strong management skills, and a priority on customer service,” he said. “Her friendly demeanor and committed work ethic make her a great fit for this position, and we look forward to working with her as RAO Director.”
Berrios has lived most of her life in the Springfield area, as a young child in the Brightwood section of the city, nearby to where she now works. She moved with her family to Southwick, and managed a travel agency before beginning her career at SHA. She lives in West Springfield.
Since she began working at SHA, Berrios has held several positions, including as a clerk in District B, and most recently, as assistant housing manager at Rental Assistance, where she believes she has found her professional home.
“I like the agency, because you can move up professionally,” she said. “There is so much you can do within this agency. And you know you’re always helping people.”
Of the department, she added, “It’s a tight-knit family here. We have several new people now, and I can see they’re fitting right in to our group. It’s a great place to work.”
For now, her staff is split, with some at SHA’s new offices at 60 Congress St. and others at 67 Sanderson St., on the northern side of the Riverview Apartments high-rise complex. But Berrios is looking forward to a day when the program can be united under one roof.
She also continues to learn the rules and regulations that drive HUD programs, an ongoing process as things continue to change in her field.
“This job has so much to it,” she said. “You’re dealing with tenants, landlords, government regulations. There’s always something unexpected in your day.”
Berrios is nearly complete with her bachelor’s degree in human services at Springfield College.