Portsmouth group to review school-to-workforce-housing report


By: Michael Goot
Date: Thursday, Oct 13, 2005
Publication: Foster's Daily Democrat

PORTSMOUTH- The Portsmouth Housing Authority will review the report determining the feasibility of turning the Lafayette School into workforce housing next month.

Executive Director George Robinson said the report by DeStefano Architects was completed about two weeks ago. However, he said he did not want to give out too many details about its contents until the housing authority's board of commissioners has a chance to review it.

"I need to play with the (financial) numbers to try to determine the feasibility based on the numbers," he said on Wednesday.

The board hired DeStefano Architects to determine the cost of converting the long-vacant building Middle Street into between eight and 12 units of workforce housing. The 14,000-square-foot building has not been used a school since 1978 and has been vacant since the Community Child Care Center moved out in 1997.

The board agreed to have Lisa DeStefano give a presentation at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 11 at 4:30 p.m. at the housing authority office at Margeson Apartments, located on Middle Street.

Robinson said if the commission decides to go forward with the project, the next step would be to go back to the City Council and to obtain a long-term lease for the building.

Robinson has said previously necessary improvements would include installing new windows and modern doors, cleaning and repairing the brick, replacing the roof, painting and installing a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

Costs of the project had been initially pegged upwards of $1.6 million.

In other housing authority business, the board voted to create a new Section 8 housing voucher program. Robinson said this program would allow those who meet income eligibility requirements to have a voucher to allow, for example, to pay somebody to rent a room in somebody's home.

He said the idea came from Great Bay Services, which helps people with special needs. The organization is looking a providing vouchers for some of their clients.

Also, the board was updated on the various aspects of the financial status of the authority. Controller Jim Sheehan said utility costs are still way up. They are running about $146,000 more than the previous year. "We're cutting costs. We're trying to manage everything we can," he said.

The authority is also facing a revenue crunch. Robinson said based on current projections, in the next year, the authority will receive about $1,053,675 of the $1,175,571 it was going to receive in federal subsidy funding because of federal budget cutbacks.

The authority is facing a deficit at the senior center.

Robinson said in his written report the authority must figure out a way to obtain self-sufficiency in each of its developments such as Atlantic Heights, Wamesit Place and Connors Cottage, as well as raise enough revenue to meet the needs of the senior center.

He said the authority needs to consider refinancing as an option or opting out of some of the programs it manages such as Wamesit Place.

Robinson said he also plans to bring back to the authority information about use of air conditioners in the Margeson Apartments development. He said some people run the air conditioners year round in their apartments because of health or other reasons. The authority may have to look at imposing some type of charge. He will bring back a report based on the electricity costs to run the air conditioners.

He added this is only an issue because Margeson Apartments does not have individual meters unlike the other developments. Feaster Apartments will soon be rewired to have individual meters and residents in Wamesit Place will soon be paying their own way.

They will have a corresponding reduction in rent.

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