Jo Anne Preston, Housing Authority candidatePreston

For years, the Arlington Housing Authority has done its work with little public attention. The strained local press has not covered it, and authority members seeking election have long declined to attend the annual candidates' night.

This election season differs in many ways: The coronavirus has delayed the election until June 6, canceled candidates' night as well as debates taped by ACMi.

Also marking the upset season are new candidates. One is Jo Anne Preston, who is opposing Joe Daly for a five-year seat on the Housing Authority. As with all hopefuls, she was asked basic questions. 

In general, why are you seeking this seat?

I would like to bring new skills and my extensive tenant leadership experience to improve the lives of the Arlington Housing Authority residents.

As a Town Meeting member of Precinct 9, which that encompasses three of the five AHA housing complexes, I have become aware, from both formal and informal sources, of a number of issues affecting the quality of life of the residents, but in that role I have very limited ways to address those issues. To join the board would enable me to work directly with the other members to seek solutions for all the residents that the Arlington Housing Authority serves.

What are the key issues you see facing the Housing Authority?

I see three main issues I would like to work on with the board.

First, there needs to be regular consultation with the residents. For instance, had the board consulted with the residents when they were planning improvements to the windows of Winslow Towers, they would have realized that they needed to make sure that the window they were installing could fit the air-conditioners that the residents had purchased. Tenants of senior housing have limited means, and buying new air-conditioners was for them was an economic burden.

In addition, I have heard of unresolved complaints about conditions from residents. Moreover, I noted the lack of participation of the Resident Advisory Board in the recently completed HUD five-year Public Housing Plan, and of a recent unilateral policy forbidding those from outside of AHA buildings from attending residents’ birthday parties.

A second concern is pedestrian safety for the residents. Arlington Housing Authority residents have expressed to me their need to better access the larger Arlington community. Yet many of the routes residents must take to places of worship, to parks and to stores are limited and, at times, dangerous. Last Dec. 31, a senior citizen was killed while crossing Chestnut Street, at the crossing residents of Chestnut Manor use to walk to Arlington Center. And last fall, MIT researchers found that Menotomy Manor residents had difficulty crossing Broadway safely to visit the Fox Library.  

A third issue is the need to increase available funding for the projects of the board. At a 2020 session of the Community Preservation Act meeting, there were no applications from the Arlington Housing Authority. Yet the committee reported a surplus $700,000.

How would you address them?

Improving communication: I would like to collaborate with the board and the residents to increase communication through both formal and informal channels. If elected, I would like to propose to the board that pathways of communication be formalized using the state and federal regulations as guidelines and distributed to everyone. Informally, I would suggest that at least one board member attend building meetings of the residents and thus be available to answer questions and listen to tenants’ concerns.

Increased access to the Arlington community: I have already met with the police chief to work on making Chestnut Street safer for the residents of Chestnut Manor. It is clear from looking at the sites that pedestrian safety, both in Chestnut Manor and in the Menotomy Manor area, would take further consultations with the Department of Planning and Community Development as well as with Public Works. As a member of the board, I will make this my priority.

I see other possibilities as well for decreasing the isolation of many of the residents (which in these troubled times many of us realize can be very stressful and depressing). The board can promote new uses of computer technology to enhance contact among residents and with those outside their building. The board can also take the lead in creating intergenerational programs. When my family delivered Thanksgiving dinners at several of the housing complexes, I noticed how much the seniors enjoyed talking with my teenage daughter, and I felt that they needed more of that kind of interaction.

Securing more funding: Most of my initiatives -- creating a plan for better collaboration between residents and the board, traffic-calming, improved computer applications and equipment, intergenerational programs -- require additional funding. Having worked as a grant writer in my professional career and as a volunteer grant writer for library books for the Thompson School, I have the expertise to assist the board in increasing funding through grants.

What specific qualifications do you have to support your candidacy?

My commitment to improving the lives of our senior residents grows out of my years as a social scientist at Brandeis University, where my scholarship and teaching focused on social, economic and psychological dimensions of aging. My previous employment as a social worker for the City of Cambridge in a program that granted financial assistance for medical costs incurred by low-income senior citizens, and as a leader of a tenants’ organization, give me a wealth of practical experience in issues in housing for families and seniors. 

What personal background can you provide?

As someone who was raised by grandparents, I saw firsthand the challenges inherent in the process of aging: the loss of spouses and close friends, the increasing mobility problems and the reduced financial circumstances. That moved me to choose to work in the field of gerontology both as a scholar and as a citizen.

Housing for low-income seniors and families became a later concern when I became a leader of a tenant organization. I saw over and over again how fundamental affordable and decent housing is to well-being.

I have much to add to the work of the board and am passionate about serving Arlington's low-income residents. I ask for your vote in the June town election to improve the quality of life for those who live in the Arlington Housing Authority residences and are in need of their services.

For more information, see Preston's campaign website >> 

ACMi profile >>

This news summary was published Wednesday, April 1, 2020. All candidates in the election to be held in June have been asked a similar set of questions. All responses received are edited and published.