State’s top housing official visits Springfield Housing Authority
Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay paid a recent visit to the Springfield Housing Authority, where she acknowledged the importance of local housing agencies, praised the collaborative work being done in Springfield, including support for the Talk/Read/Succeed! early literacy program, and took a tour of downtown and the South End.
Kornegay made a four-hour stop at SHA’s 60 Congress St. headquarters as she settles into her new job as the state’s top housing and community development official. She was appointed to the job four months ago by Gov. Charlie Baker, soon after he was sworn in.
In Springfield, Kornegay first met with several SHA officials, including Executive Director William H. Abrashkin, Deputy Executive Directors Michelle Booth and Nicole Contois, Resident Services Director Pamela Wells and Rental Assistance Participant Services Manager Loleta Collins. Also present were SHA Board of Commissioners Raymond Warren, chairman, Willie Thomas, vice chairman, and Jessica Quinoñez, resident member.
SHA Board of Commissioners members and staff gave Kornegay an overview of the largest public housing authority in Western Massachusetts, which has a portfolio of 2,384 public housing units and 2,632 Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8 housing. The overview included details on facilities and management and other departments within the SHA, with many questions asked by Kornegay as she listened attentively.
The visit also included highlights of SHA’s ongoing efforts to help improve the lives of residents, including services and education programs to elderly residents and the priority of helping to raise literacy, education and job skills among family residents.
Other initiatives outlined are waiting lists and the need for affordable housing, the agency’s move to an asset management system, a focus on lease enforcement, and specific programs such as a recently expanded program to help Section 8 tenants buy houses and become financially self-sufficient, and a new collaboration with Hampden County Sherriff Michael J. Ashe to create housing for people recently released from jail.
Kornegay said she liked what she heard. She also said she considers advocacy a key part of her mission, and urged all present to appeal to her office for support
“Our job is to be advocates, and to do what we can to assist you,” she said. “We do the best with what we are given, and we are here to do what we can in terms of advocacy on your behalf. We encourage you to be advocates, too.
Kornegay has a history in housing and community work. Until Governor Baker appointed her, she was president and chief executive of Urban Edge, which assists residents of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, in Boston, with housing and development matters.
Abrashkin said he was pleased Kornegay accepted the invitation to make a visit to the Springfield Housing Authority.
“On behalf of the Housing Authority and personally, I’m honored and appreciate that the new undersecretary for Housing and Community Development found time very early in her tenure to meet with us and our colleagues and learn about our work in Springfield,” Abrashkin said.
“Undersecretary Kornegay is smart, experienced and a good listener. She is clearly committed to using her position to support the important work being done in Springfield and communities throughout the state,” he added.
Abrashkin gave Kornegay a tour of the SHA downtown headquarters, and filled her in on Talk/Read/Succeed!, the collaborate early literacy program that unites two dozen local agencies and organizations, two city schools and two family housing developments – Sullivan and Robinson Gardens – in an initiative for early literacy. The program also includes family outreach, education and job training.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Talk/Read/Succeed!,” Kornegay said.
The visit also included a luncheon with guests from area agencies, including the Regional Employment Board, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, HAP Housing, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and Home City Housing Development Corp.
REB Executive Director David Cruise told Kornegay that local housing, education and community development agencies and officials have an established and long-time history of collaboration.
“I don’t think it’s a secret to say that there’s a culture of engagement and trust in this community that’s grounded in access for those who need it,” Cruise said. “Those of us who have been around know this. We trust each other.”
Kornegay warned that early state retirements are going to have a major impact on her agency, with a staff loss expected in the area of up to 15%, or 45, of the 300 DHCD employees.
“That’s going to mean a huge change in the way we will be doing business,” Kornegay said.
The visit wrapped up with an hour-long tour of the downtown, starting on Main Street and heading into the area in the South End section of the city, where construction will soon begin on the MGM Casino. The tour included looks at SHA’s Gentile and Marble Street Apartments, Morgan Square, Stockbridge Court, Classical Condominiums, Chestnut Towers, and the Quadrangle.
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