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Massena losing its enriched housing program; seven employees to be laid off

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MASSENA - The Massena Housing Authority announced Friday that effective April 30 it would no longer be providing its enriched housing program, which will be shutting down after nine and a half years.

“With deep regret and by unanimous decision, the Massena Housing Authority Board of Commissioners has decided to close the Massena Housing Authority’s enriched housing program,” said Housing Authority Executive Director Kathy F. Allott. “The enriched housing program staff will aid residents in making other arrangements for care.”

Ms. Allot explained that the decision to close the program was actually made last year, but before the program could officially be shut down the New York State Department of Health had to approve the move. Once that approval came, she said employees and residents were notified of the closure.

“As soon as we were able to let them know we did,” she said.

Ms. Allott said the program employs four full-time and three part-time personal care aides, all of whom will lose their jobs once the program is closed.

The enriched housing program was designed for clients who could no longer live alone in their homes, but their needs didnot warrant nursing home care. They were able to live in their own apartments but benefitted from assistance with shopping, some meals and cleaning.

While the date April 30 has been identified as a closing date, Ms. Allott said that if alternative arrangements can be made for all the program’s residents before then the program may close before the end of April, but she did say April 30 would be the program’s last day.

“This is not open ended,” she said.

Ms. Allott said the program started looking for additional aid and revenues in 2012 to help keep it afloat, but after no help surfaced,the program’s pending closure became inevitable.

“We tried to look at ways to make the program more viable,” she said, explaining that included speaking with Congressman William L. Owens, Sen. Joseph A. Griffo and Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell.

However, no additional aid surfaced.

“Things are tight all over,” she said. “It’s a sad thing and it’s something the board did a lot of soul searching over.”

Given the fact the housing authority is funded by HUD (Housing Urban Development), Ms. Allot said they couldn’t afford to jeopardize their status with them and risk losing that funding, which pays for the bulk of the agency’s operating costs.

“We’re primarily in the business of low income housing,” she said. “We can’t do anything to compromise our HUD funding.”

She said currently the program, which is certified for up to 25 residents, is providing services to roughly 16 people.

Arrangements for those residents she said are being dealt with on a case by case basis.

“Some of them will be able to stay in their apartments with outside help, some may need nursing home care, and there is also an enriched housing program in Brasher, which is being very accommodating.”

Referring to Brasher’s status, also as a low income housing program, she said all of the enriched housing residents in Massena would also qualify for services in Brasher.

While that may make transferring patients easy, Ms. Allott also said that may have been the one thing hampering the program the most.

“Because we’re HUD funded and our tenants pay income based rent, we can’t raise their rent to cover our deficit,” she said.

Looking back at the previous five years, there has only been one year when the program was able to run in the black, making $724 in 2012.

Last year the program lost $73,623. That was proceeded by a losses of $18,398 in 2012 and $21,087 in 2011. In 2009 the program lost $17,629.

Expenses for the program, which during that time had serviced anywhere from 17 to 23 residents, have also increased from $214,460 in 2009 to $326,037 in 2013.

Ms. Allott explained those expenses include salaries and benefits for the program’s seven employees, as well as supplies, meals and miscellaneous expenses, noting program participants are provided one hot meal each day.

Ms. Allott said the program’s residents are divided among Laurel Terrace and Grasmere Terrace. Once arrangements are made and those apartments become vacant, she said they will be filled by residents who qualify for low income housing.

Program participants were charged $990 per month, which translates to $11,880 per year for enriched housing services.

“That’s supposed to cover their care and food, but it doesn’t,” she said, noting expenses per resident last year totaled $16,301.85 per resident, a difference of nearly $5,000 per person.

Massena Mayor James F. Hidy said it was unfortunate that the program had to close.

“It’s unfortunate that a program like this, which was so valuable to so many people, would come to an end as it provided people with the specialized care that they needed,” he said, noting that the program’s residents aren’t the only ones affected. Unfortunately several people who administer the program will also be losing the jobs,” he said.

When asked if it was possible to shift those employees to other positions within the housing authority, Ms. Allott responded, “There are no other positions.”

Ms. Allott also said that she wanted to stress that the housing program itself is not in danger of closing.

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