By Trevor Ballantyne
Staff writer, Needham Times
Access to the most basic necessities – food, transportation, and shelter – are the most pressing issues for residents living in Needham Housing Authority (NHA) apartments.
That is according to results from a recently completed survey conducted by the Needham Department of Public Health and Human Services, which also identified neighbor-to-neighbor conflicts, social isolation, and drug-use among common concerns.
Around 455 Needham residents live in housing managed by the NHA, where rent is paid with varying levels of assistance from either the state or federal government.
“When asked to identify the single biggest issue affecting their quality of life,” an assessment of the health department survey’s 115 responses reads, “the largest proportion of respondents identified home/building maintenance, public transportation, and food and groceries.”
“There is no regular upkeep to the inside of buildings and no maintenance to clean the grounds and parking lots,” one resident said in a survey response.
A master facilities plan from March 2019 shows over half of all 115 buildings managed by the authority are more than 50 years old, at least six structures require over $1 million in “immediate repairs” in order to avoid “major water infiltration problems,” and none are handicap accessible.
“People with severe mobility problems live downstairs and those [residents] with minimal problems live upstairs,” another resident observed on the lack of accessibility in NHA buildings.
On top of maintenance issues, “access to food was a major concern of respondents due to difficulty paying for food and finding transportation to food markets,” the survey report said.
Seventy percent of survey respondents reported never using a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft and only 22% said they use the public bus or shuttle “often”. Almost 60 percent of respondents said they drove themselves in vehicles and those without cars said they relied on rides from friends or family, survey data shows.
The survey results come as the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCH) and other agencies continue a more than two-year investigation into the former leasing practices at the NHA.
DHCD ordered the NHA to break a joint operating agreement with the Wellesley Housing Authority in 2018 after an audit found housing applicants getting preferential treatment, leasing staff performing inadequate eligibility checks, and tenants not paying rent.
In its conclusion on the survey assessment, the Needham Health Department cited the need to strengthen an existing tenants association and find other ways to provide residents with an opportunity to voice their concerns and mediate disputes.
Health officials said respondents reported, “excessive neighborhood conflict and social bullying” and said elderly residents reported issues with younger neighbors violating smoking and noise policies. Some respondents expressed safety concerns linked directly to the murder of an elderly resident in 2017.
“Since [the] murder occurred, we were promised outside cameras, and nothing has been done,” one resident is quoted as saying.
Since last fall, Rep. Denise Garlick, (D-Needham) has held regular meetings at the housing authority to hear concerns directly from residents. On Tuesday, she applauded Needham health officials for exploring residents’ concerns.
Garlick cited the saying, “nothing about us without us,” and said, ” I think it’s important that the board of health and its work has gone directly to the residents.”
“The residents have identified what they see as their health needs, the residents have prioritized it,” Garlick said. “Now it is up to the many institutions in the town, through our community partnerships to help meet these needs.”
This is an article that originally appeared in the Needham Times. To view it online, please visit: https://needham.wickedlocal.com/news/20200205/for-needham-housing-authority-residents-basic-needs-are-biggest-concern