John Hamilton, the new executive director of the New Britain Housing Authority wants to change the perception of the way public housing is viewed.
“Because it is low income (people believe) all we do is provide people someplace to go. It is more than that,” Hamilton said. “My vision is to provide safe, decent homes for people who are low income. But for me it is larger than that. We not only provide them with a place to live, buy we try to help them with life through the family self-sufficiency program, the ROSS programs and resident services to work with elderly and disabled. What these programs do is help people who live here to have other resources from education to credit scores, health care and home ownership.”
Hamilton began his new position on Jan. 22.
He is originally from Brooklyn, NY. He grew up in housing similar to what he now directs.
“It was larger and more densely populated, but the struggles are the same. Challenges are the same,” Hamilton said. “I feel like I am a testimony that you cannot be limited by where you are from or the environment that you grew up in because of economic or family situations. You can do anything.”
Hamilton came to Connecticut to work for New Haven Job Corps managing residences. He then worked at the Community Action Agency working with families. He started in New Britain doing intakes at the housing authority and then went to the family self efficiency program before applying to his present position.
Hamilton said he would like to partner with other agencies and get the word out to those that live in public housing or receive Section 8 that the housing authority does more than just help those problems.
“We can help people get scholarships into college. We want to change the long term perception about public housing,” he said. “That is hard because unfortunately the housing and rent side is what it is. It’s a bill and that is a touchy situation, but we are also interested in the public housing community.”
He said he is making some changes. Number 1 is re-branding. The website, nbhact.org, has been redone and the group is now on Twitter and Facebook.
“We are trying to improve customer service. It takes a while. Customer service is about people trusting you. That you have the right motives and care about their well being and getting the assistance they need,” Hamilton stated. “It’s also about developing that social enhancement component.”
The housing authority buildings are older he said, but he would like to improve them as he goes along the best he can. He wants to modernize them as many are from the 1940s.
“There is work to be done. They cannot be shiny like they were just built, but we want to buff and fix it,” he added.
There are 803 public housing units. There are also over 800 Section 8 vouchers administered.
“It can be a daunting task, but we want to meet that challenge,” said Hamilton.
The main offices are on Armistice St., but there is also a center of excellence on Fern St. Workshops, family self sufficiency and various other programs are held through it. Groups of businesses that are interested in renting space for programs for this community or New Britain as a whole are welcome.
About 45 employees work for the housing authority with most being in maintenance. 15 are in the office.
“The hardest change is changing minds. We can shine up a building, overhaul our customer service, we can become social media saavy, but minds are difficult to change because of how public housing is perceived by those that don’t even live here,” added Hamilton. “This is not where dreams go to die. For some people this is a means to an end. For some it’s an opportunity to regroup and readjust their lives and move onto other things. This is a viable option so they can have a quality of life with their income. The key to changing minds is consistency and that is where the challenge is for us.”
The New Britain Housing Authority is located at 16 Armistice St. For information call 860-225-3534.
Office hours are Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. It is closed for lunch from noon to 12:30 p.m.