By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — It’s a job that directly affects more than 1,000 Haverhill homes, many of them where elderly or disabled people live.
Those people depend on the Haverhill Housing Authority and its director for rental units and advice on issues involving their homes.
They also depend on the director and his staff to talk with them about things that come up in their daily lives.
Since 1948, the city’s Housing Authority has had only two directors. Mary Watson led the agency until retiring in 1982 and Dennis Soraghan ran it for the next 32 years until his recent retirement.
Now the authority has a new boss.
Joseph Hart of Roslindale has been named the authority’s director by its five-member board. The board said he will make $75,000 a year.
“Joe is very knowledgeable about state and federal programs and the governmental workings of public housing,” said Soraghan, adding he is confident Hart will do a good job and make residents comfortable. “He has a very calm demeanor. He’s a good listener and he’ll be a good fit with residents. He will care about them and he appears to have a good heart.”
Hart’s appointment was recently announced by board chairman Harry Kalashian, along with members Doris McGirr (tenant council member), Jonathan Goldfield, Dorothy Early and Attorney Joseph Sullivan. All board members are appointed by the mayor except for Early, who was appointed by the governor.
Hart said the Haverhill Housing Authority serves about 1,000 households. It operates 440 housing units, most of which are occupied by senior citizens while some are homes to families. The average monthly rent is about $350. Another 400 units are privately owned and receive some form of subsidy administered by the authority for private market units, including Section 8, and a state program called Mass Rental Voucher.
Soraghan, 61, retired after 38 years with the authority, 32 of them as director. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family, including one grandchild.
“I have another on the way this month,” he said.
Hart, 49 (no relation to former City Councilor Michael Hart) said he applied for the job at the urging of Soraghan, whom he got to know during Hart’s 18 years working for the state Department of Housing and Community Development in Boston. The state agency provides oversight and guidance to housing authorities across the state, including Haverhill’s.
“It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come up very often, so when the opportunity arises you have to go for it,” Hart said. “I’m impressed with the city and decided to give it a try.”
Hart lives in Roslindale with his wife and son, who is in high school. They also have an older son, who is married.
Soraghan said that several years ago Hart was a guest speaker at a resident council meeting, where he was very well received.
“He fit right in with the residents and had a great rapport with them,” Soraghan said. “That was the first time I realized he was a people person.”
While working for the state agency, Hart said he got to know Haverhill and its people.
“It’s a very different role for me,” Hart said. “The state DHCD is like a wholesaler while the Housing Authority is like the retail outlet. The state provides the program that provides the funding for housing, then the authority does the everyday work of collecting rent, mowing the lawn, maintenance ... the actual property management piece.”
Soraghan said the best part about his job with the Haverhill Housing Authority was the thousands of residents and housing professionals he met over the years.
“It’s a job where you know you are helping so many people,” Soraghan said. “It’s always a good feeling, as where would these people be without us?”