Many of Hoboken’s public housing residents came to the Hoboken Housing Authority meeting on Thursday to show their allegiance to board Chairman Angel Alicea, who is up for re-appointment to the board by the City Council (see cover story). Some attendees called for board member Graciela Orellano to relinquish her seat, since she has been missing meetings in order to pursue her master’s degree.
At the meeting, board member and 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo came under fire for at first backing Alicea, then turning around and voting against Alicea’s reappointment at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
Russo defended his position on two fronts. He said new candidate Hector Claveria brings appealing skills to the table. He also said that he had previously promised 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer that he would support any candidates she brought up in the future. This is because last year, Zimmer opposed his appointment to the board, since most of the Housing Authority buildings were in her ward. Russo told her he would defer to her the next time a seat was available.
Zimmer apologized at the Housing Authority meeting for the debacle at Wednesday’s City Council meeting over the appointment.
Zimmer said she was not trying to slight Alicea by bringing in a new candidate, but that some of the processes of the board could be more efficient, and that Claveria’s background in business makes him a good candidate for the job.
The seven-member HHA board oversees the city’s 1,353 units of public housing. The HHA projects have long had problems with financial mismanagement, security, and crime. Some of those problems have been addressed with changes in management, new locks on the doors, and tenants being evicted for drug-related offenses.
Claveria introduced himself at the meeting. He had not previously been at any of the HHA meetings, and was greeted with very little hospitality from a crowd that was highly supportive of Alicea.
Claveria’s wife also defended him against some catcalls from those who said Claveria didn’t even live in the projects and had no idea what went on there. She said her sister and other family members live there and that her husband had a very good understanding of the problems faced in the projects.
Finding a compromise
After Claveria said he had the best interest of the people in mind, some of the residents started to inquire about the whereabouts of Orellano, who is unavailable to attend meetings on most nights because of her class schedule.
Board member Perry Belfiore explained after the meeting that a rule had been put in place to remove absent board members should they miss more than three meetings, but that Orellano had been given exempt status due to her schooling.
He said it was very possible that the board would now ask her to either reestablish her seat on the board or yield to other interested individuals.
“He’s not getting a red penny; he’s not getting nothing but headaches.”
– Margie Biart
“He’s not getting a red penny; he’s not getting nothing but headaches,” she said.
Biart also called out Russo for what she called political posturing, claiming he changed his decision because, “It’s election time.”
Rumors say that Russo is among those who want to run for mayor this May.
“You couldn’t clean house in City Hall,” Biart said. “Now you’re going to come down here and clean house?”
Paying the police, locking the doors
Meanwhile, the board discussed new safety measures that are being implemented in the projects.
Two weeks ago, Housing Authority Deputy Director Carmelo Garcia held a Public Safety Workshop for residents, informing them that the door locks in five buildings are finally active. At the meeting, residents were also able to speak to community police officers.
But just days later, some of the door locks were already inactive due to residents who had improperly propped or wedged the doors open.
Interim Executive Director Robert DiVincent told the board on Thursday he is acting fast to get those doors, as well as the ones that weren’t ready, in working order.
The board also settled a several-months-late bill owed to the Police Department for their overtime protection services.
DiVincent explained that the paperwork from the police was received late, which caused the delay. He also said that services that date back to 2005 were not supported by documentation.
He said the current payment was reduced $333,000 because of the missing documentation required by the federal Housing and Urban Development division. He explained that the police can provide the required documentation in the future to have that money repaid to them.
Filling the vacancies
Also at the meeting, Garcia reported that vacant apartments in the projects are still slow to be filled because of increased costs and a limited budget. He said the budget is replenished each October when the HHA’s new fiscal year begins.
The agency is overseen by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Of the 68 vacant units, 37 were removed from availability in March because they are long-term renovation projects that the Authority can not afford to fully renovate yet.
The remaining 31 units still put the HHA above its federally mandated 95 percent mandatory occupancy rate.
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