Board Chair: Fitchburg Housing Authority Ready to Stand on Its Own After Help from Leominster
FITCHBURG -- Five years after the state put the Fitchburg Housing Authority under Leominster’s management, leaders of the organization say it’s time for Fitchburg to operate independently.
“We think they’re at a point where they can be on their own and continue to improve,” said Ben Gold, assistant executive director of the Leominster Housing Authority on Friday.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development ordered an independent fiscal audit and review of the Fitchburg authority in 2012 because of its long waiting lists for subsidized housing, slow unit turnovers, high vacancy rates, and neglected properties.
In 2013, Fitchburg signed onto a five-year management plan under the Leominster Housing Authority, which also oversees housing units in Lunenburg, Sterling and West Boylston.
Since then, Fitchburg has focused on renovating units, speeding up its housing application process, and increasing marketing efforts, Peter Proulx, the former executive director of the Leominster Housing Authority, said last year.
In the fall of 2013, Fitchburg’s occupancy rate dropped to 68 percent, he said. By 2017, it was 98 percent.
Gold said the management plan expired in September.
Linda Byrne, who serves as chair of the Fitchburg authority’s Board of Directors, told city councilors on Dec. 18 that since coming under Leominster’s management, things have stabilized and that Fitchburg should have its own separate authority.
“We’ve gone through a major change in Fitchburg,” she said before they reappointed her to serve on the board until 2022. “We’re too big an authority to stay in a regional one.”
As part of the Fitchburg authority’s goals, the board hired Doug Bushman, who led Marlboro’s Housing Authority, as its executive director. He accompanied Byrne at the appointments committee meeting.
Bushman signed a contract with the Fitchburg Housing Authority that is in the process of being completed and is expected to begin on Jan. 11, Gold said.
At the meeting, Ward 1 Councilor Amy Green agreed that Fitchburg should be in charge of its own housing authority and commended Byrne and Bushman on their efforts to make that happen.
“We look forward to good, positive changes to get the organization back and running as a business with best business practices in place and transparency,” she said.
Mayor Stephen DiNatale said Friday that he will meet with Bushman next week to learn about his vision for the housing authority as executive director.
DiNatale said he supports having the agency operate independently.
“I’m glad we’re moving this forward,” he said. “This is an opportunity for a better product for the people of Fitchburg.”
Follow Mina Corpuz on Twitter @mlcorpuz.