2013-08-22 / News

Housing board to address fire hazard at Pemberton apartments

Authority awarded nearly $30,000 in federal dollars
By Margo Sullivan

The Housing Authority has inked an $80,000 contract to upgrade the fire-detection system at the Pemberton apartments. Part of the project will be financed by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed announced 25 Rhode Island cities and towns would share $11.7 million in capital funds. The money is to be used to maintain public housing and specifically to pay for major improvements and overhauls.

Housing Authority Executive Director Richard Leco expressed delight when told his department is receiving $28,288 in federal funds. He said it’s not the first time Jamestown has received the grant.

According to Leco, the Housing Authority actively applies for HUD grants on an annual basis. He said the authority has a fiveyear plan that is updated annually and sent to Washington, D.C., for review. Typically, he says, Jamestown receives funding every year.

With funds now secured, Leco said the project is set to begin in September.

“This has been a priority for the Housing Authority,” he said.

Leco said the improvements are “long overdue” for the health and safety of Pemberton’s residents.

Leco says the apartment complex currently has working smoke and fire alarms connected to the fire station, but the system is antiquated. If the fireboard went out, he said, it would be difficult to find replacement parts. Without the fireboard, the town would have to provide round-the-clock monitoring to protect the residents.

This new system will eliminate that problem. It will be state of the art, Leco said, and include detectors in the crawl spaces under each unit and in the attics over each unit. As for the new fireboard, the panel will display the building, the unit and the exact room within the unit where the problem is occurring.

The new technology will allow firefighters to assess the situation at a glance.

Even though the grant will not cover the entire cost of the work, Leco said the money can be combined with funding from past years. Under the rules, the Housing Authority has two years to “obligate the money,” and three years to spend it.

Leco said the fire-detection system came in under bid, but most of the $80,000 will be needed for the project. If additional money is received from the Community Development Block Grant, those dollars may go to replace the fire escapes. According to Leco, the existing escapes are in disrepair.

The authority also usually receives a portion of Jamestown’s block grant, but Leco does not apply for it independently. Town Planner Lisa Bryer prepares the application for the entire town.

Bryer said she does not know yet how much money Jamestown will receive, but anticipates the announcement will be coming soon.

“Every little bit helps,” Leco said.

In future years, the Housing Authority plans to replace the roofs and purchase new appliances, mostly stoves. Another project involves repairs to kitchens and bathrooms.

In this round of awards, Providence received the biggest grant, which was for $3.2 million. Narragansett’s grant was the smallest at $13,758.

According to Rhonda Siciliano, spokeswoman for HUD, the grants are spread across 3,100 public housing agencies. Awards are based on a “formula that considers number, type and age of units in a community,” she said.

According to Siciliano, the money is specifically for big projects. “Grants provide funding annually to all public housing authorities to build, repair, renovate and modernize the public housing in their communities. The authorities use the funding for large-scale improvements to the housing, such as new roofs or to make energy-efficient upgrades to replace old plumbing and electrical systems.”

Sicilano said the United States is losing housing inventory for lack of repairs. The department estimates the country loses 10,000 units each year.

Rhode Island currently has approximately 9,500 public housing units. Reed has promised to push for additional funding, though he says the $11.7 million was a step in the right direction.

“This federal funding will help Rhode Island housing authorities preserve affordable housing, build stronger neighborhoods, and put more contractors to work making needed repairs,” Reed said.

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