IHA tenants voice concerns to visiting HUD officials

IRVINGTON, NJ — Irvington Housing Authority tenants met with representatives from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes public housing in the township, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, in the Community Room at 624 Nye Ave. Residents voiced their concerns regarding new management, since David Brown, the IHA’s former executive director, was fired for cause a few months ago. Interim Executive Director Camilo Garcia has been hired in Brown’s place.

HUD representatives got an earful about service and quality-of-life issues from the tenants, including black mold; lack of security guards; exorbitant fees for minor infractions; poor maintenance; nepotism in housing assignments; cronyism when it comes to the Irvington Municipal Council appointing members to the IHA Board of Commissioners; lack of recreational activities for children and seniors, and insufficient funding to make needed repairs and upgrade facilities.

“I’ve been complaining for about two years about this mold in my house. My child had two strokes in four months,” said IHA tenant Jonelle Jones on Wednesday, Aug. 16. “They (are) telling me it’s mildew. Mildew and mold are two different things — mildew is white, mold is black. My child had two strokes in four months. They’re not doing anything about it. Things that need to be done should be done.”

Jones went on to allege that “every time they have a meeting, tenants are not able to say anything; we can’t speak our mind” adding that she hoped HUD sending representatives to the IHA would change that.

“When are we going to get a chance? When are these kids going to get a chance?” asked Jones. “They don’t have anything in the afterschool program. It’s dirty, it’s leaking; it stinks. Oh, now they painted it, because they knew HUD was coming. We don’t have computers, I’m tired of talking to them.”

The HUD officials in attendance said they were not allowed to comment about what they heard, saw or were told that day, or about what they saw when they visited Jones’ apartment. Current IHA officials who are holdovers from Brown’s administration also participated in the meeting.

The meeting was organized by current IHA resident and former Commissioner Delores Calloway and featured two members of the Tenants Rights Advocate organization, who advised all IHA residents to stop paying rent, in order to force HUD and the IHA to deal directly with them. That is not what IHA resident Joseph Epps said he wanted to hear at the meeting.

“You know that managers are supposed to conduct an inspection every year that a resident is recertified,” said Epps on Wednesday, Aug. 16. “If that was happening on a consistent basis, then management would be aware of the issues that are in the units. It could also function as part of a preventive maintenance program, in order to ensure that timely maintenance is done. This meeting is not what I expected it to be. The announcement flier said ‘any and all.’ If an agenda is already set, then that precludes the ability to discuss any other issues.

“My concern is more in terms of technical matters that relate to the continuing viability of this property and the fact that the Office of the Inspector General and enforcement have said that they have issues in terms of whether or not this property will be able to continue as a going concern.”

Epps went on to say: “Regardless of what Mr. Brown left behind, it’s time to get to the point of saying we need to take care of our business.”

“So until that happens, whether HUD shows up here or not, and I have questions, why is your acting director not here? We have no idea who these people are,” Epps asked the HUD representatives. “You come here and I heard your name mentioned as the person that’s supposed to be responsible for this property, the asset manager for this property. These other two gentlemen, as far as I’m concerned, I could pass them on the street and who are they?”

“I’m the business director (of HUD),” said Bagu Tumar on Wednesday, Aug. 16. “We have a team assigned to each housing authority. Yes, there was assessment done. There was a lot of mess. The money was mismanaged over here for many years. The new board is the one now responsible for what needs to be done. If there is no money, HUD is not going to give more money than they are getting. Under capital improvement, they get about less than a million (dollars). Half of it goes to the tax bill. Then they get some $2 million, $2.5 million for operations, to maintain the building, including salaries and everything, so there is not much money left there either.”

Acting Executive Director Kathleen Witcher, a former IHA commissioner, also attended the meeting and came away with mixed feelings about it.

“I was pleased to see several of the longtime residents present for the meeting and that several HUD officials were in attendance, along with Darlene Evans, the chairman Commissioners’ Board and, briefly, Councilwoman Sandy Jones,” said Witcher in an email sent Tuesday, Aug. 22, to the Irvington Herald. “I am glad that Calloway thought to call the meeting, because … the concerns that residents have (have) gone unaddressed. There is a new director and there are new commissioners at the Irvington Housing Authority. The residents need to be informed. I was not sure why housing managers were added to the operating pool, since there is a large depletion of workers. IHA had only a director and I think that is suitable for a small housing authority strapped with financial woes. Emphasis was placed on rent payments by the managers.

“Other exceedingly disturbing complaints were made throughout the meeting in the packed community room. … I was dismayed that so many of the problems may not be resolved quickly, as it is reported that IHA is hanging on a shortage of funds.”