IRVINGTON, NJ — Several members of the Irvington Housing Authority’s board of commissioners remarked that their meeting Monday, June 13, at 624 Nye Ave. was not like any public board meeting they’d had before.
That was because it seemed as if every IHA public housing tenant who came to the meeting had a horror story to tell about issues ranging from black mold growing in apartments with poor drainage to injuries from doors without handles to the lack of security in areas such as Crescent Lane, where drug dealing, gangs and violence have become the norm. And then there were tenants who spoke on the podium about receiving eviction notices despite having paid their monthly rent on time.
“I’ve been three months in these projects; I’m going to call it the projects,” said Karen Ross on Monday, June 13. “I leave to go to Bible study class and I get an eviction notice posted on my door. But I paid my rent on time. Where did the money go? Somebody’s stealing the money. You’re not dealing fairly.”
Another male resident said the resident complaints were “just another example of how our people don’t seem to care about our people.”
“I’m not trying to be contentious; I just think there needs to be more transparency and accountability for the management of the buildings,” said the unidentified male tenant at the meeting. “If we don’t get that, then we’ll be like Stradford Place in Newark, where, to his credit, Mayor Ras Baraka had to step in and get involved, because the landlord had let it run down so bad, to the point where it was a public health hazard to the residents and everyone else in the community. I honestly think we are approaching that level.”
Every resident who spoke talked about the need for more maintenance workers, despite rumors about laying off 13 employees.
All the IHA commissioners were present for the meeting and heard the complaints.
“I believe that everybody is on edge, because I’ve never seen anything like this,” IHA Commissioner Carolyn Jenkins said. “We, as a people, have to try to work together to make this a better place. You think that we don’t try to do things to make sure that you get what you need. We want to help you.”
Veteran IHA board member Ana Scott is a retired school teacher and former Irvington Board of Education member. She also said she wants to help the IHA tenants to resolve their concerns, but said there was one thing that bothered her about the outpouring of disgruntled emotions from the audience.
“It seems like, in the past few months, we’re getting so many reports of how good the maintenance workers are doing,” said Scott on Monday, June 13. “All of a sudden, everybody is backing up the maintenance department and saying what a good job they are doing. But in the past, you used to come to us and complain about the maintenance department. So I’m having a hard time believing what I’m hearing now.”
IHA Commissioner Robin Cox, wife of West Ward Councilman Vern Cox, said she didn’t like hearing about the residents complaints at all, and said the tone of outrage that was shockingly apparent at the meeting leads her to believe IHA Executive Director David Brown should do a better job running the agency.
“We sat up here quietly and listened to everything that every one of you had to say; just give me the respect that you want,” said Cox on Monday, June 13. “As far as no safety and no security, that’s unacceptable. Mr. Brown, if you did your job and handled these things, then we wouldn’t have to hear any of this.”
Cox said the board needs “to have accountability” from Brown and the rest of the IHA management. She asked Brown, “I want to know what you all are doing.”
Cox assured tenants that the commissioners had heard their concerns and would take action to improve their living conditions and quality-of-life issues. She said “waste water coming up in your bathroom is unacceptable,” especially when the IHA has a plumber on staff.
“Is he doing his job?” Cox asked. “Where is the plumber?”
Cox said the IHA tenants have a right to be angry about the subpar living conditions and quality-of-life issues they energetically expressed, but she said they need to make sure they are focusing their anger on the right person.
“You came down here; we are doing what we are supposed to do, but it’s Mr. Brown that has to take care of this,” said Cox. “Don’t come in here talking about the maintenance department, when we have tenants talking about cutting their hands on doors because there are no handles. Mr. Brown, please do your job. I’m not angry with you all. You all are angry with us, the commissioners, but you’re really angry with Mr. Brown and he needs to do his job. The bottom line is something is going to be done.”
When it came time for Brown to speak at the meeting, he declined to do so, and instead asked the board chairperson to adjourn the meeting. Therefore, there was no comment by Brown on the record at the meeting or afterward about any of the issues raised.