City money gets Lowell Housing Authority out of hot water (2024)

LOWELL — A decrepit boiler system, that at times delivered 170-degree Fahrenheit water or no hot water to household faucets to the 1,600 residents in the North Common Village family housing development, is being replaced. Work is expected to be completed this summer.

Water temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit can increase the risk of scalding.

A confidential source who contacted The Sun with their concerns also said that, “Three buildings had no hot water for two months and tenants were given excuses and threats.”

North Common Village is the largest of the Lowell Housing Authority’s many developments, with a total of 524 units spread across 36 walk-up, brick buildings.

The LHA manages more than 3,000 federal and state housing units serving the needs of more than 6,000 residents in low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. It is the largest provider of these services in Lowell comprising 8% of the city’s housing stock. The quasi-governmental agency is the third largest housing authority in the commonwealth.

At its March meeting, the LHA Board of Commissioners approved a contract for Performance Plumbing and Heating in the amount of $608,824 to replace four hot water boilers, three heat exchangers and the water filtration system.

The nondescript brick building from which all the hot water and heating for the complex is delivered is located at 361 Adams St., said Jonathan Goldfield, the capital asset manager for the LHA.

“So this is the project that is being funded for the most part by the [Community Development Block Grant] funds from the city. … It’s a very large project,” Goldfield told the board March 7. “This is for all the domestic hot water for all apartments at the North Common Village.”

Last October, the City Council approved allocating $550,000 in Community Development Block Grant monies to the LHA.

CDBG is a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was created in 1974 as part of Title I of the Housing and Community Development ACT of 1974, as amended. The primary objective of Title I is the development of viable urban communities for low- and moderate-income people.

Goldfield manages major building and site improvement projects for the Housing Authority, as well as the federal HUD and state grants that fund them. He has been with the LHA since 2013.

“The city needs to spend this money before the summer,” Goldfield said. “It’s the first time, I believe, since I’ve been here, anyway, that we got CGB funds, which is also HUD funding, but a different pot.”

The LHA is bringing $200,000 of its own capital funding to backstop the city’s funding.

In previous meetings, Chief Financial Officer Sherry Giblin has noted that utility rates are the second-highest expense for the LHA. The fiscal 2026 budget may provide some metrics on how much of an impact the boiler replacement project will have on those expenses, which are subsidized by the authority.

On the receivables side of the ledger, then-Chair Phil Shea said in November that the federal government credited the LHA with almost $2 million in funds for costs related to the 2022 Moody Street flood, which he said could be put toward other capital expenses.

“Monies that we can use, spend on some of our projects that are certified and OK’d by HUD,” he said.

A major city water main burstNov. 28, 2022, spewing millions of gallons of water into several neighborhood streets in the Acre, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents of the authority’s 192-unit City View Towers on Merrimack Street. The building is home to senior residents and people who are disabled. The water damaged critical infrastructure, which cut essential services such as electricity and heat.

Residents were housed for one month at area hotels during the massive clean-up and repair project. They returned home right before the holidays.

Health and safety was also a theme during the LHA’s April 17 meeting, during which Management and Facilities Director Dennis Mercier told the board that HUD changed its smoke detector regulations.

“Part of their new regulations is they want smoke detectors in every bedroom in public housing,” he said. “We’re looking at 2,500 different bedrooms having smoke detectors.”

Failure to comply by the January 2025 deadline, Mercier said, could impact LHA’s financing and its Public Housing Assessment Score.

HUD measures agency performance in managing its public housing programs using a 100-point scoring system based on four categories: physical, financial, management, and capital and improvement plans.

The board approved a motion for a contract to Pine Ridge Technologies of almost $322,000 to purchase and install the carbon monoxide/smoke detectors.

The board also approved Commissioner Mony Var as the new chair, and Commissioner Rodney Elliott as vice chair. Effective April 18, Shea resigned from his position as a member of the Board of Commissioners of the LHA, saying it was time to move on.

Shea wasappointed in 2019 by then-City Manager Eileen Donoghue to fill an unexpired board position term. He was reappointed to his current five-year term, which would have expired at the end of June.

The City Council approved City Manager Tom Golden’s selection of William Samaras to fill the vacant seat on the board during its May 21 meeting.

The LHA meets June 12, at 5 p.m., at the Armand Mercier Community Center, 21 Salem St.

City money gets Lowell Housing Authority out of hot water (2024)
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