New IHA director comes with a lot of baggage

IRVINGTON, NJ — When the Irvington Housing Authority Board of Commissioners passed a resolution at its meeting on Wednesday, April 19 that named former Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia as its new executive director with a $155,000 starting salary, some IHA residents were not happy about it.

Former IHA Director David Brown had been fired for causes cited in the federal agency’s 2017 Audit Report at a special meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8. The hiring of Garcia, however, has confused residents regarding the status of improvements to the premises.

According to IHA residents, at their meeting with the HUD technical team the morning of Friday, April 28, Paul Watkins of the Econo Metrica company introduced himself and said he and his company would be implementing the improvements residents had been waiting to see.

“We’re trying to figure out ourselves if David Brown being gone is a good thing or not, because we still haven’t seen anything positive yet at all,” said Crescent Lane resident Ayisha Morelli on Sunday, April 16. “He just got out the office, so we’re trying to see who they’re trying to put in the office, to see what they’re capable of doing for our community. We don’t know yet. We haven’t seen anything upgraded yet.”

According to Joe Epps, another IHA resident, the meeting featuring Watkins was all about the upgrades Morelli and other residents said they are waiting to see. But after that meeting, Epps said he’s not optimistic, now that Garcia is in charge of the IHA.

“Watkins said he’s always available at the main office here in the complex,” said Epps on Friday, April 28. “I wonder what’s going to happen next. I guess we’re all going to have to wait and see.”

According to former SEIU Local 617 member and former IHA employee Rasheed Willis, if Garcia’s previous track record during his time at the Hoboken Housing Authority is any indication, he does not expecting anything good from Garcia, citing a news story that Garcia was fired for cause by the Hoboken Housing Authority Board of Commissioners for allegedly improperly awarding contracts. Garcia also served one, two-year term as a state assemblyman for the 33rd District, which he was elected to in 2013.

“IHA just hired a new director with a sketchy background from Hoboken,” Caleb Bryant, the former SEIU Local 617 shop steward, said Wednesday, April 19, alleging that Garcia’s “$155,000 salary is still more than a director is supposed to make for managing a facility this size.”

According to Mayor Tony Vauss, HUD had tapped Elizabeth Housing Authority Executive Director William Jones to replace Brown, but changed course when Jones asked for $200,000 to bring in a team to do it.

According to IHA residents, Watkins told them Econo Metrica, his employer, will be responsible for turning the township’s public housing agency around.