MILLBURY, Mass. - Stae Auditor Suzanne Bump said in a report last week that the housing authorities in Millbury, Shrewsbury, and Webster have operating reserves well below the state’s recommended level.
Also included in the report is that the Millbury Housing Authority was found to have many violations of the state sanitary code, including mold and mildew, broken windows, water damage and damaged flooring in three-family homes.
This report has executive director of the MHA, Janet Cassidy, fighting mad. "When the original draft of that report came out, the state sent us a copy of that and we had had an opportunity to respond, which we did. But none of our repsonses are in the final report nor in the article" (written by another news service), she said. "It just doesn't tell the entire story," she added.
The audits of the Millbury Housing Authority was conducted by the auditor's office from Oct. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2010, the Shrewsbury Housing Authority from Jan. 1, 2008 to Aug. 31, 2010 and the Webster Housing Authority from March 1, 2008 to Nov. 30, 2010.
Bump's report states that all three housing authorities failed to comply with state guidelines requiring that they retain at least 20 percent of their annual budgeted expenditures in an operating reserve. In the report it was noted that “significantly underfunded operating reserves raise serious concerns about the authorities’ ability to address emergency situations that arise,” Bump said.
This is where Cassidy agrees, to a point. "We are underfunded as an organization," she said. "Three to four years ago our organization was profitable, but rents have gone down while insurance rates, insurance premiums and the cost of materials have markedly increased." She added, "most of our units are over 60 years old and are in need of re-conditioning and we don't have the money. We need a subsidy but everyone else (other towns in Massachusetts) is in the same boat."
The sanitary code violations cited drew a similar response from Cassidy. "Both of those properties have been off-line for quite some time," she said. "One has been un-occupied since 1998, the other since 2005. The tenant in the place couldn't keep up with basic upkeep so it needs a lot of work. So because we don't have the money to completely rennovate it, it has been unoccupied since 1998, which they failed to mention in both the report and the article," she said.
The second home had four feet of standing water in its basement due to run-off from a nearby construction site and has been empty since 2005.
Since money is in short supply, perhaps selling the properties off would be an answer. Not so, Cassidy said, citing a catch-22 with the state. "We don't have the money to fix it properly and have gotten offers from businessmen to purchase it. But we can't sell it unless we have a replacement property, and we can't purchase a replacement property without selling this one....."
And adding insult to injury, the state's report also found the housing authority’s average turnaround time for reoccupying units was 63 days for the Millbury Housing Authority and 64 days for the Webster Housing Authority, when the DHCD (Department of Housing and Community Development) states that the local housing authorities should reoccupy units within 21 working days of their being vacated by a tenant.
According to the auditor, both the Millbury and Webster housing authorities may have lost more than $16,000 in rental income because of the slow turnaround.
Once again, not the entire story according to Cassidy. "With homes that are all over 60 years old, and most having been occupied for many years, it's just not as easy as slapping on a coat of paint to make things ready for someone else." she said. "There are a lot of things that need to be done, and with old homes, they take time."
Cassidy said that she and the Millbury Housing Authority are preparing a rebuttal letter to the auditor and her report. When it becomes available we will carry it here at theDailyMillbury.com.