To walk through his home is to be struck by the decorative scheme of ornate, hand crafted woodwork, and his reverence for his homeland of Puerto Rico. Flags and island art hang on the walls, interspersed with several pictures of Olivieri with his wife of 38 years, Margarita, his four children and four grandchildren. Family, Hoboken, and Puerto Rico have always been important to Olivieri in his 46 years here.
Olivieri was born on April 29, 1939 in Puerto Rico and migrated to Hoboken in 1955 with his parents Teofilo and Isabel, and his siblings.
He has contributed greatly to the community through a lifelong public service career, working from 1969 to 1973 for the State Regional Drug Abuse Agency, counseling addicted teens and going into the schools to educate the county's youth. From 1973 to 1975 he also counseled drug addicts in the Model Cities program.
Olivieri first began working in City Hall for tenants' rights when he started with the city's relocation office from 1975 to 1979, where he helped educate families and give them the best options to stay in the city. Or if they had to leave, he would teach them their rights for their protection.
From 1979 to 1984, he kept many of the same duties working in the Community Development Agency Housing Rehabilitation Program. From 1985 to April 30, 2001, he served as the city's tenant advocate, informing both tenants and landlords of their rights under the rent control laws.
Watching the city change
Olivieri has seen Hoboken go through many different transformations. When his family first arrived, there were no Latinos in the community to speak of. In his time here, he has seen the Puerto Rican community grow and flourish, only to be driven out in numbers due to the condo development in the city. Olivieri made sure these fleeing residents were compensated for their relocations.
"I miss the old Hoboken," said Olivieri. "Sometimes I miss the families that were forced to move elsewhere, I miss the kids that used to play in the streets. My job wasn't always great. [Hoboken] has gone through some pretty bad times. Forty-seven people gave their lives [in fires] and hundreds and hundreds of families were forced to relocate."
Olivieri recalled the story of Anna Mercado. In the late 1980s, he visited Mercado's apartment to assist her in her relocation efforts because the landlord of the building wanted the tenants to move out. He left her apartment to volunteer at St. Mary's Hospital. Then, he learned that Mercado and her family had died in a horrific blaze. They were what Olivieri called "victims of greed," a few of many residents who died from arson-related causes in a brief span of time, thought to be the victims of unscrupulous developers who wanted to convert the buildings to condominiums.
But he said he had an equal amount of good experiences while working for the city.
One happy story he told was of how he helped a young mother with housing issues and adopted one of her daughters. The young mother was struggling with drug problems and was not able to care for her children. In what Olivieri thought was a temporary solution, he took one of her small daughters into his home. Eventually, Olivieri's family adopted the girl. She has just recently turned 19 and is doing well, according to Olivieri.
Olivieri is quick to help without the promise of reward. His action and dedication have not gone unnoticed by those he worked with.
"Tom has been a real asset to the city," said Hoboken's Public Information Officer and long-time friend Michael Korman. "His involvement in housing issues, justice and equality has been a real benefit to the community. He has been a terrific friend to thousands of individuals in Hoboken and has always tried to resist politics as much as possible. He just did it to help people."
The sentiment was shared by longtime co-worker and rent stabilization office director Carol McLaughlin.
"He is an extremely caring and fair man," McLaughlin said from her office. "I miss him a lot. He has a wonderful family and he has always been caring and has worked hard in his career to help everyone that he could. He will sorely be missed."
Olivieri has also served as the city's director of Hoboken's Latino and Minority Affairs, where he played an integral role in community relations and in the organization of events such as the Puerto Rican Day Festival.
According to city sources, Olivieri's position has not been filled yet and because of Tuesday's election result, his successor will have to wait until the new administration takes office.
Olivieri is enjoying his first full week of retirement. As he stands on his back porch holding his granddaughter, he points to a bucket of paint that is resting on the deck and says that now that he has the time to take care of projects he couldn't do while working, like painting the house. His plans for the future are currently on hold. He and his wife are going to take an extended vacation to visit his property in Puerto Rico, where they are considering moving to but haven't decided yet.
For now, he is content to sit on the porch with his family and enjoy the newest chapter in his life.