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Housing Authority candidates discuss public transit, funding at League debate

Margaret Coppe, convenor of the Lexington League of Women Voters, left, moderates a forum between Winchester Housing Authority candidates Thomas Mourier and James Harris on March 14. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/WILL DOWD.

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The two candidates competing for a four-year term on the Winchester Housing Authority Board of Commissioners squared off in a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters on March 14, revealing differences in their approaches to public transportation and funding for the agency.

James Harris is the incumbent appointed by the Select Board to the Housing Authority last year. With a master of public administration in public administration at the University of Rhode Island in progress and a background in real estate, Harris identified the water piper replacement project, updating aging housing units and finding additional funding as key issues.

He has played a role in securing a grant for a resident service coordinator and initiating several projects of the Housing Authority.

Thomas Mourier is a recent Winchester High School graduate and the challenger. He is an engineering student at Northeastern University and focused heavily on the need for improved public transit options for housing authority tenants.

“We do not have adequate public transit at all,” he argued. “And as a suburban community is close to Boston, it’s a shame. We have so many communities near us. Lexington and Woburn have much better public transport for their residents than we do. And we can change that.”

He proposed implementing a system modeled after Lexington Express, which offers affordable shuttle services.

“This is a great way where we can get our tenants around places and there’s huge demand for this public transportation,” Mourier said.

Harris emphasized his experience and the progress made during his tenure.

“Since I've been on, we helped secure a grant for a resident service coordinator, which has been a huge help to our residents through outreach, various activities and many basic other needs,” he noted. “A roof project is ongoing at Wesley Street.”

While acknowledging the need for updates to the aging housing facilities, Harris suggested alternative funding approaches.

“I would love to organize some sort of public fundraisers where we could raise money to then help the tenants that are living there, check things off their lists,” he said. “Maybe they need a new toaster, they need a new refrigerator. We don't have the money because it’s tied up in the water pipe project.”

Mourier emphasized the importance of leveraging state and MBTA funding for affordable housing and transportation projects in Winchester.

“Not only do we get money from the state and MBTA,” he noted. “I really hope that at some point we can do this with Winchester. We can leverage state resources to create a community that is less car-dependent, moving away from personal vehicles that clog up our streets and cause traffic issues.”

He added, “This would give tenants the option to easily take the bus, which can stop right at their house, providing an essential service to get around.”

Both candidates agreed on the need for closer collaboration between the Housing Authority and town officials, but differed in their approaches. Mourier called for detailed reports to secure funding from Town Meeting, while Harris expressed willingness to work with elected officials to address tenant concerns more efficiently.

The Winchester Housing Authority oversees 119 units, primarily serving elderly, disabled, and low-income residents.

The annual town election in Winchester will take place on March 26, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. All precincts will vote at the Winchester High School Gymnasium, located at 80 Skillings Road.

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