The HHA manages and operates six public housing developments consisting of three low-income subsidized family complexes (903 units) and three senior buildings (450 units) for a total of 1,353 units.
The plan includes $10.3 million in improvements to the authority's buildings and grounds, and significant inroads into cutting the HHA's deficit.
A long road to go
According to the federal Public Housing Assessment System, the HHA is considered "troubled" due to failing scores in both physical and financial areas. The Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, and Harrison Gardens developments received failing physical scores.
If the HHA is unable to follow the steps outlined in a corrective action plan that was signed with the HUD in June of 2004, HUD has threatened to take over the HHA.
A history of promises, but not results
In the past, grand projects at the HHA were announced to great fanfare, but all too often, politics set in and the projects were never completed, or were mismanaged.
In the 1990s there were plans for a Community Center with a basketball court, and community rooms.
Architectural renderings were completed and presented to the public, and a sign announcing the center was erected on the proposed site.
The sign stood there for over five years, but the funding was squandered and the project was never started. Another example of the HHA management's bumbling occurred in 2001. At the time, HHA residents were complaining about the condition of their bathrooms and kitchens. But much of the money dedicated for those projects went to glimmering copper roofs for several of the buildings.
The executive director at the time, E. Troy Washington, never disclosed to the public how much the project cost. Every area contractor questioned said that copper is one of the most expensive materials available for roofing. Last week, Housing Authority Commissioner (and City Councilman) Christopher Campos acknowledged the past problems under previous HHA administrations, and pledged Thursday that this time the HHA management is going to get the job done right.
"Residents have a right to be skeptical, because in the past they have paid the price for the mismanagement at the Housing Authority," Campos said. "But now we have turned that corner and we are going to make those improvements that our residents have been pleading for. This is an authority that is moving forward."
$10.3 million in improvements
Because of such poor track record, the pressure is on the HHA's management to deliver this time around. In Dec. 2004, the HHA was approved for $10.3 million in a bond leveraging program, in which 15 authorities from around the state have gone out to bond and the then split the loan.
The bonds are issued through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which is charged with making sure that all the housing authorities that applied for the money have a plan to spend it efficiently.
The agency would not give this loan to a housing authority that is going to squander it through mismanagement. To make sure the HHA was on par, the issuer of the bonds hired a private firm, NW Financial, to perform a management assessment.
Only about one percent of that money can be used for administrative costs, and the rest, by the terms of the bonds, has to go toward the design and construction.
With this money, the HHA has contracted four architectural firms - one each to conduct assessments of the HHA's grounds, mechanical systems, outside building structures, and individual apartments.
Campos said Thursday that one of the biggest and most immediate priorities is security.
"We listened to the concerns of the residents, and the chief concern has always been safety and security," Campos said.
The HHA has already entered into a contract to buy about 25 video cameras in the HHA's public areas for about $100,000. According to HHA Acting Executive Director Robert DiVincent, about 11 of those cameras have already been installed, and the other 14 will be installed shortly.
The cameras feed directly to the Hoboken Police Department. DiVincent said that anyone caught by these cameras doing something they shouldn't be will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Also, DiVincent is preparing a bid, which he said will be sent out in the next few weeks, to installs new doors with locks and intercoms for a number of buildings. Currently, said DiVincent, there is no way to lock the front doors, so everyone has access to the hallways of those buildings. Also, under this bid, DiVincent would like to include ramps to make the buildings handicapped accessible.
While the public bid hasn't been sent out yet, DiVincent said that it will likely cost around $1 million to complete.
New roofs and some new park space
On Tuesday afternoon, NJK Contractors Incorporated signed a $276,000 contract to replace the roofs at 221 Adams St. and 220 Jackson St. apartment buildings.
Also, said DiVincent, the HHA will be going out next week for site work for passive recreation space, a picnic area and a brand new basketball court near Marshall Drive.
Also, the HHA has collected comments about what needs to be done to the apartment's interiors, and the architects are now conducting a needs assessment to prioritize what needs to be done and what the HHA can afford to complete.
DiVincent said, "$10.3 million might seem like a lot of money to most people, but when you consider the amount of work that needs to be done, we have to make sure that every penny is spent as effectively as possible." He added that he firmly believes that with these improvements and enhanced maintenance, the HHA will be taken off HUD's "troubled" list when it comes the authority's facilities.
Finances need work
The HHA is also troubled when it comes to its finances. According to an audit that was presented to the Newark Branch of HUD, the HHA was allegedly operating with a nearly $4 million deficit and had overspent its budget by millions of dollars after Washington left two years ago.
The report said the HHA's capital funds, which are often called "brick and mortar" funds because they are allotted for physical improvements and construction, had gone toward "soft" or operational expenses such as salaries.
In April, agents from the FBI and the HUD visited Hoboken to look over every contract signed by Washington when he was head of the HHA, trying to account for $4 million in alleged over-expenditures.
DiVincent has implemented new financial control measures and has detailed plans for "returning the Authority to fiscal stability."
On Tuesday, he said the HHA is now paying bills on time and is in much better shape than they were a year ago. "We have come 75 percent of the way out of the massive debt that we started with," he said. "I expect that by the end of next year, we will be totally financially secure and well on our way to making the HHA the best authority it can be."
He added that the HHA has just contracted an auditing firm to comb over the Authority's books. "I believe this audit will clearly show the progress that we are making," DiVincent said.
Recently, the HHA opened up its housing wait list to current HHA residents who might need to move to a bigger or different apartment, for instance, residents who had kids. DiVincent said he hopes to open the list to other Hoboken residents within the next two months.