Since an early age, Blanca Carrasquillo has been helping people transition. She moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1968 with her aunts, uncles, cousins, mother, brothers, and grandmother—all of whom were Cuban refugees. “At four years old, I quickly learned English and became a translator for my family. [Later on] I sifted through the mail every day, interpreted street signs for my mother when she learned to drive, and translated product labels and teacher messages on tests and report cards,” she recalls. “I knew then that I would work in a profession that helped guide people in need.”
As deputy director of operations for Connecticut’s Bridgeport Housing Authority (BHA), Carrasquillo is responsible for management and maintenance of 2,500 public-housing units. “Housing that aids the homeless has the most impact on low-income families,” she says. “Without shelter, all other aspects of life seem temporary—work, school, recreation, etc.”
After she graduated from high school in 1983, Carrasquillo completed a typing test at the BHA and immediately started working as a clerk typist, taking information from tenants who needed repairs in their apartments. “The tenants saw that I wanted to help them, and I followed up with staff to complete the work. Soon, the executive department recognized my efforts and broadened my experience in all aspects of the agency’s operations.”
Indeed, Carrasquillo progressed from low-income public-housing coordinator, to site manager of a low-rent, public-housing complex, to chief of program monitoring and lease enforcement, to director of equal-opportunity compliance and resident selection. Today, she excels as deputy executive director of operations.
“With 28 years of service and tenure in all departments and field sites, I have a unique history and knowledge that no other employee has amassed,” Carrasquillo says. “My favorite aspect of my job is solving difficult problems that can’t be done without my intervention.” Approximately 25 percent of BHA’s public housing is in small buildings scattered throughout the city, and Carrasquillo tries to visit remote locations every day.
In December 2010, when she was driving to work, Carrasquillo received a call from the foreman at a housing site where children were left alone in an apartment. Carrasquillo responded immediately, and found that the housing unit was dirty and unfurnished. She gave the tenant—a mother of two children—a deadline to clean her unit that same day. Meanwhile, Carrasquillo initiated a collection that provided beds, sheets, blankets, a turkey dinner, and Christmas trees and gifts for the family.
Carrasquillo advises that low-income families struggling to afford shelter should use public housing as a temporary crutch. “Take advantage of all of our programs to help attain your goals and then move on,” she says. “We need tenants who leave public housing with a legacy of success.”
In 2010, Carrasquillo worked to open two projects that house families from homeless shelters. Park City Hospital was converted into 110 units, and the Merton House was constructed to provide 22 housing units. “Both projects provide more than just housing for the homeless,” she explains. “Each offers a wide variety of services to help families readapt back into the community.”
Under Carrasquillo’s leadership, BHA is the largest landlord in Bridgeport, providing housing to children, the elderly, and disabled individuals. “At our two public-housing sites that contain the majority of our senior population, we have recreation and medical activities on a regular basis,” she explains. “For both senior and disabled populations, we keep ‘at risk’ listings to respond to their needs in emergencies.”
Ethnic makeup: White 45%, African-American 30.8%,
Size: 16 square miles
Interesting fact: The city is known for its famous resident, showman, and once-mayor P.T. Barnum, who later founded the circus that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
BHA has won awards for its Stable Family Program, which offers family counseling and social-services support. “Several family housing sites have after-school programs, and all sites have recreational activities. We also have an extensive summer program for children and teenagers,” Carrasquillo says.
In Bridgeport, which has a large Hispanic population, the BHA is currently collaborating on a Section 8 voucher program that makes apartments available to homeless families. Social services and job-placement assistance will also be available. In addition, the organization recently broke ground on a project that combines affordable housing with a community medical facility, scheduled for completion this year.
“I can’t think of another job that allows an individual to give more back to the community,” says Carrasquillo, who is a mother of five. “I have a great sense of satisfaction in my job, and I never forget the help that I received. It’s rewarding to return the favor.”