Podcast: Perry Identifies Affordable Housing as a Top Concern as She Takes Over at Community Action

Kerri Sheeran Perry, chief executive officer of Community Action. (Courtesy photograph.)

Affordable housing is one of Kerri Perry’s top priorities as she takes the helm of Haverhill’s venerable Community Action.

Perry recently succeeded John Cuneo as chief executive officer of the anti-poverty agency. Perry, a recent guest on WHAV’s morning program, says the need for affordable housing is an issue that has been around for many years—and one that continues to outgrow the supply of public housing units.

“But, a lot of people won’t qualify for that and the wait list (for public housing) is simply just too long. When you have a five-year wait list to access housing, that generally is not a great solution for families. We really need to get more short-term solutions. The administration in Haverhill and agencies and organizations are all working towards that same goal. Everyone has to have their oars in the Merrimack paddling in the same direction here, and that’s the way we’re going to get things done,” she says.

One of the tools available for communities to get more affordable housing is the state’s Chapter 40B regulations. But Perry says it’s not a perfect solution.

“With 40B, when developers come in, communities can say to them a certain percentage of the units that you are putting on the market need to be set aside for affordable housing, but that sort of begs the question, ‘what is affordable housing?’ Is $1,500 a month affordable when someone is making minimum wage? You really have to take more into consideration than just the price of the unit. It’s some calculus that will make your eyes cross, let me tell you,” Perry notes.

Prior to taking the reigns as Community Action’s CEO, Perry worked as the agency’s director of planning and development. Her task was to expand agency’s income and programming.

One of the busiest programs this time of year at Community Action is fuel assistance where her team is fielding numerous daily calls. While the program is always in demand, she says, the fallout from COVID-19 has forced even more families to seek aid this year.

“When people call in, all I ask of them is to be patient with my team. They are responding to people as soon as they can. When applications go out, they are processed very quickly. We have a lot of people accessing services, not just energy but many Community Action services for the first time. We have a lot of families who have never accessed services before but, because of the pandemic, because of the economic situation, they are finding themselves in, they are calling us for the first time, so we really are seeing a surge in new clients. When people call in, just be patient, you will get a call back. They are going to ask for a certain amount of documents and it’s going to be spelled out very clearly. The energy program is really a critical need in our community, especially for our elderly clients, so it’s a lifeline,” she explains.

Perry says a list of COVID-19 food, meals and other resources is available at CommunityActionInc.org, along with a link for new client registration for its many programs.

Besides WHAV.net, WHAV’s “Merrimack Valley Newsmakers” podcasts are available via Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, TuneIn and Alexa.

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