Helpful housing: Bristol Housing Authority celebrates commitment to community

Published on Friday, 10 August 2018 21:14


BRISTOL - Jay Maia led the young members of the audience at the Bristol Housing Authority’s 75th anniversary celebration in a rousing call-and-response of “Great Futures!” and the reply was “Start here!”

Maia, who is the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center’s Cambridge Park Clubhouse director, acted as emcee for the authority’s annual Family Day event at its Cambridge Park development Friday.

The event - with games, food, music and bounce houses - doubled as the anniversary celebration this year.

“It’s a big community picnic,” explained Melissa Green, the authority’s deputy director. “We’ve been doing this for at least 20 years, so this year because it’s our 75th anniversary we’re doing a few more activities here and we have a family gallery set up with photos of all our properties.”

“Cambridge is our biggest property, with 180 units, and our second biggest is Bonnie Acres, with 120 units. That’s elderly and disabled housing, adjacent to this property,” she said.

The housing authority has nine properties and serves 3,000 people in total, including 1,426 families. Founded in 1943, it is a quasi-independent agency under the direction of a board of commissioners appointed by the mayor. In addition to serving the elderly and disabled persons, it operates housing for families that meet the low and moderate-income criteria for federal and state programs. The goal is to make the family developments a transitional, not a permanent, solution.

“This is one of my favorite events all summer,” said Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu at Family Day. “We have so many of our community members come out for this, and one of my favorite phrases is that it does in fact take a village to raise a family and a child.”

Michael Suchopar, president/CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, said it was a chance to celebrate the longtime alliance of the club and the housing authority.

Mitzy Rowe, authority executive director, said it is also her 18th year working for the authority. “I could not be more pleased to see the progress this agency has made throughout the years,” she said.

“We continue our dedication to helping families, children, the elderly, the disabled, those who are in need of support to uplift their quality of life, to secure a better place, to become more self-sufficient, advance their education and become first time homeowners,” she said.

Rowe noted that this is the first year the authority is offering a college prep program for middle and high school students, in cooperation with Tyrone C. Black, director of student advancement at The Wooster School in Danbury.

Black said he considers it a gift to have the opportunity to work with authority to create the program. “We’re going to go step by step on how to build a resume as a student, also trying to make sure that we get you to visit the campuses, and then getting the college admissions officers to come here,” he said.

The college prep program will also walk students through the process of taking the SATs and finding scholarships so they don’t have to take out loans, he said. “I believe that every student sitting under this tent here today should have the opportunity to go to college.”

The Boys & Girls Club gave out a variety of awards at Family Day, including awarding $500 scholarships to Cambridge Park residents Amal M. Ahmed and Phirin Khen.

“We try hard to be a good neighbor to the community,” said Rowe. “We have good screening criteria, we provide programs to our residents that will help them get ahead by breaking barriers to get education, get a job, get a car, and get access to services and information. We strive to make sure we provide the best service to our residents as well as our local partners. Everyone benefits with better education, job opportunities and economic development across the entire city.”

One of the authority’s most outstanding programs is the creation of the nonprofit Bristol Neighborhood Development Corp., said Greg Shimer, account director at Rebel Interactive, a marketing company helping to highlight some of the authority’s achievements. Bristol Neighborhood Development purchases distressed houses, refurbishes them, and then helps housing authority residents to purchase the properties.

“As part of this process, residents will go through financial literacy training that teaches them how to purchase household items and to become self-sufficient,” he said. “Rehabilitating our housing stock in turn improves the curb appeal of the surrounding neighborhood - in effect raising everyone’s property values.”

The authority’s family self-sufficiency program provides job skills training, education and parenting tips. Rowe has also raised funds to help parents get their kids to school.

“In most cities, if kids live within one mile of their school they are walking or their parents drive them to school, but this can be hard on kids when the weather is bad,” said Shimer. “Mitzy has arranged for buses to come pick up kids from families in the Bristol Housing Authority.”

Three years ago Rowe also established a $50,000 scholarship that is currently assisting five students from authority residences who are attending Tunxis Community College, Shimer said. “Mitzy has gone way above and beyond and thinks outside of the box.”

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Staff Writer Brian M. Johnson contributed to this story.

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Friday, 10 August 2018 21:14. Updated: Friday, 10 August 2018 21:17.