PITTSFIELD — Institutional knowledge is a valuable commodity to have in any organization, and the Pittsfield Housing Authority has that topic covered with the presence of Connie Scott.
Scott, who was named the organization’s executive director in September, has worked for the authority for 32 1/2 years.
She began her career at the agency that provides public housing for the city of Pittsfield and six surrounding towns as a receptionist, and held several other positions there before landing her current job.
Scott is a nostalgia buff who keeps a copy of the Housing Authority’s first-ever meeting in her desk, and it’s her previous job experience within the organization that gives her a personal understanding of how the agency functions from top to bottom.
We spoke with Scott recently about her career at the Pittsfield Housing Authority and the plans that she has for the organization.
Q: Was being the housing authority’s executive director a goal when you started, or did it just work out that way?
A: It actually did kind of work out that way. But, I always relate it back to this story.
One morning I happened to walk into Mr. Doyle’s office [the late former housing authority Executive Director Gerald S. Doyle Sr., who hired Scott in 1988]. He said to me, “What do you want?” And at the time, being sarcastic, I said, “Your job.”... I always think that maybe I meant that.
Q: Why have you stayed at the housing authority for so long?
A: Initially, when I took the position [as a receptionist], I had two young daughters. I needed a job and I needed to keep a job because of the kids. So, I stayed with the intention that, if I’m going to be here, I need to learn the ins and outs of the housing authority. ... I actually enjoyed it. ... I had time to learn the different agencies that were involved and see the different connections that were made throughout all the agencies. That helped me stay a little longer, because I was learning more.
Q: It must have given you a good understanding of what the housing authority does.
A: Yes. If I had to put my experience for each position in a category, I would say that, as a receptionist, that was greeting and understanding how to communicate with people.
When someone comes in and they’re having a horrible day, you have to figure out how to make things better. From a public housing perspective, a lot of residents’ rent is based on their income. When someone comes in with no income, they’re compared to someone who has a job, so, there are different ways of communicating with them, different ways of how you get to the end result when you tell them what the rent is going to be.
Q: In a recent interview with WAMC, you said more work needs to be done to move people from public housing into their own homes. What did you mean by that, and how do you change that dynamic?
A: I know there are programs for first-time homebuyers. I know that there are programs for family self-sufficiency. I know that there’s also the residence service coordinator program, which is the one we’re currently working with. ... These programs allow tenants, who have the desire, to own their own homes.
Not everybody wants to own their own home. But, I think for the ones that do, we can offer them help, and if we can help, we should. I know we don’t offer family self-sufficiency, but it is my intention to look into it and to see how we can.
Q: So, we’re talking about helping people get into programs to become more self-sufficient so they don’t rely on the government so much for assistance.
A: Well, I guess the nicest way to say it is to get people to rely more on themselves, realize their self-potential. ... I think it changes the rhetoric of the story. ... Instead of saying, “I’m frustrated,” they can say, “I was frustrated.”
Q: What are your goals as the Pittsfield Housing Authority’s executive director?
A: I look at it this way. I started with Mr. Doyle. [I want to] incorporate or display the good of what he provided for the public housing tenants and for the housing authority as a whole.
At one point, we had the DARE program [a national educational initiative designed to prevent the use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs and violent behavior]. I know that things change and those programs and funds get cut, but it was an offer to tenants that they would have an outlet. ... So, that’s one of the things that I want to start and get established.
Some of our residents are very young with children. Some of them went from, and this is going to be a very careful statement, being on their parents’ lease to their own lease with no in-between about how to even run a household. ... I’m looking for how I can help the in-between. I think that changes a person’s direction.
Q: So, how are you planning to do that?
A: I have three weeks in [as executive director], and one week was spent in jury duty, so, I’m just getting started. ...
I know that there are agencies that have the idea of what I’m hoping to establish, so, I’ll look into collaboration with those agencies. I know the Christian Center has the programs that are already in place. I think a lot of the inability to get things done the way we want to now is because of the pandemic situation. ... I can’t just jump in the car [right now] and go to the Christian Center and sit down and talk to somebody.
Q: Why is it so important to change that in-between period that you’ve been referring to?
A: It’s important because, at least now, it’s not being addressed. We don’t know the difference that a change in the in-between will make.
If someone doesn’t want it, that will show. But, if someone does, there has to be something there to offer; to allow people to know that there is an option and there is help. ... I’m not offering another financial assistance answer. I’m looking for a [way] a person might change themselves and then, who knows? ... I just think it’s an area that nobody has addressed. In the end, it could be a benefit not only to that person, but to the community.
Q: How has COVID affected the way you run the housing authority?
A: Because of the COVID, people weren’t able to just drop by the office and say, ‘Change my rent’ [if an adjustment was needed]. ... A lot of things come through a verification process, and with a lot of agencies closed, they couldn’t verify.
It was incident on top of incident where we can’t adjust [the rent] if we can’t verify it, and you can’t verify it if the agency is closed, so, it was a tough time. ... But, in my rosy view of the world, I believe that we’re going to get back to a better place where all of this is going to change. ... We’ll be able to let tenants back in the office and get things done.
Q: Does it help to be an optimist when you work for the housing authority?
A: I probably am the optimist in the housing authority. Our quota is one, and I filled it.