IHA puts in the effort to protect residents and improve township

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IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington Housing Authority has been doing everything it can to make the township of Irvington a better place, working hard during the last three years to be a part of the city’s comeback.

Irvington Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia dives into the responsibilities of the IHA, a public housing agency under the auspices of U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

 “We manage three developments of quality — decent and sanitary housing for a combined number of 667 units — two developments consisting of senior/disabled housing and the other a multifamily development known as Crescent Lane,” Garcia said July 25. “We are responsible for asset management, fiscal budgeting, health, safety, operations and improving residents’ quality of life.”

Considering the history of housing within the township of Irvington, Garcia described IHA’s efforts to support Irvington residents.

“IHA was once one of the top five troubled housing authorities in the country before summer of 2017,” Garcia said. “Since our new leadership and partnership with the city and Mayor Vauss, we have deployed many corrections, action plans, solution-based initiatives. For example, we have installed new fire suppression systems and fire alarm panels to safeguard residents, a state-of-the-art security surveillance system, modernized common areas with LED lighting, rehabilitated and turned over 100-plus units that were previously warehoused.

“We’ve reinstated resident services to help with supplemental resources,” Garcia continued. “We’ve completed 95 percent of HUD’s recovery action plan; we’ve made the agency more financially solvent in order to invest the funds back into the buildings. We are pursuing a Section 18 Demo/Dispo approval to dispose of the AMP 1 asset in order to relocate the tenants from Crescent Lane, who are living in distressed obsolete housing. They will receive HUD’s tenant protection vouchers for relocation or homeownership opportunities.”

Section 18 of HUD’s requirements deals with demolition and disposition; an AMP is an Asset Management Project.

“We’ve also turned around our Section 8 Housing choice voucher program from a substandard to a high-performer operation,” Garcia said. “We’ve abated and closed out all previous Office of Inspector General findings and independent professional audit findings. In partnership with the Irvington Police Department and Mayor Vauss, we decreased crime by an estimated 40 percent. The agency was near bankruptcy; today we have a positive cash flow and all debts are paid.”

In light of the coronavirus, Garcia explained how they’ve tackled the outbreak during the height of the crisis.

“It was difficult and unprecedented, but we were fortunate to be proactive and immediately institute the protective, preventative measures, such as using a 90-day electromagnetic chemically sprayed EPA-CDC–approved disinfectant solution that kills corona or any virus for 90 days,” Garcia said. “We’ve also implemented the closure of all common areas where folks could congregate. All persons entering our buildings must wear a mask; we’ve enforced social distancing, establishing an 8 p.m. curfew in accordance with the city to not allow guests in the buildings after 8 p.m. We’ve educated and saturated residents with CDC guidelines and ‘new normal’ policies that would remove the need for them to interact or come out of their homes.

“We gave all residents a COVID-19 care kit consisting of 10 masks, 10 gloves, hand sanitizers, wipes,” he continued. “We have continued our food distribution, so no one goes without a meal. We partnered with a couple of doctors to conduct door–to-door COVID-19 testing and antibodies (testing). We continue to open our doors every Friday to have Sunrise Diagnostic conduct testing for residents.”

In the event of another local spike in the outbreak, Garcia said IHA will be better prepared.

“We will have a mass communication technology that will allow us, like an Amber Alert, to better communicate in real time using the Quick Alert app,” he said. “We will also have more PPE in stock.”

As head of IHA, Garcia admitted the range of emotions this ordeal has caused.

“The uncertainty and fear revolving around the pandemic was brutal,” Garcia said. “Trying to figure things out each day as essential workers how to keep residents and employees safe was exhausting yet rewarding.”

According to Garcia, some of the greatest challenges were responding to the fear, anxiety and stir-craziness the virus caused among residents, as well as the plumbing, unanticipated expenses, rent loss and infrastructure strain.

“This is a pandemic crisis that has disrupted everyone’s life and has caused major grief, hardship and trauma,” Garcia said. “However, as a servant leader and the executive director, it’s my duty to provide hope, confidence and healing that we’ll get through it together. We’ve offered effective services that protect our residents.”

Focused on moving forward, Garcia unveiled what’s next for IHA.

“We have an excellent vision that the board adopted and I’m championing in order to implement our five-year strategic plan,” Garcia said. “We are repositioning and repurposing our assets to continue the transformation in creating a campus that reinvigorates quality living, modern housing and a healthier lifestyle. We’ll be pursuing the rental assistance demonstration and blend programs.”