However, the transformation has not come without a price - including the possible future displacement of tenants.
Last week, articles appeared in the New York Times and another local newspaper about the 435-unit six-building Montgomery Gardens housing complex on Montgomery Street. It has been slated for demolition within the next two years, and the property will be redeveloped into mixed-income housing by one of four developers who have already submitted proposals to Housing Authority Executive Director Maria Maio.
One of the four candidates to develop the property happens to already have a massive condo project going on next door. George Filopoulos is the developer of the Beacon, the 1,200-unit condo conversion of the old Jersey City Medical Center. Some believe he is the developer the city will choose.
The redeveloped Montgomery Gardens is slated to be a mix of low-income, moderate-income, and market-rate housing.'Blown out of the water'
Dorothy Carter, a 35-year resident of the Montgomery Gardens and head of its tenants association, said last week that she was "blown out of the water" after being informed by residents that the newspapers were working on an article about the future plans for Montgomery Gardens.
"I don't know why [Maio], along with the man from the Beacon, would talk to a newspaper about any plans when the Tenants' Association has not put together a planning committee," Carter said.
Carter said she had contacted Maio to let her know how she felt about Maio's comments in the newspaper, but still plans to work with Maio. She also said she will work with whichever developer is chosen for Montgomery Gardens, although she believes Filopoulos has the inside track.
Carter also said that while she agrees with the concept of mixed-income housing, she personally would like to see the 435 units replaced by an equal number. She worries that the tenants who are displaced may not be able to return.
Last week, Maio verified what had been reported and defended herself, saying tenants would have been fully aware of the future vision if they had attended community meetings at the Montgomery Gardens site in past months. She also said the Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners voted in June to seek a developer, and to offer vouchers to families wanting to leave.
She also defended the proposed transformation of Montgomery Gardens, saying it will be cost-prohibitive to maintain the buildings as it is, since there are fewer federal dollars to do so.
Maio was also taken to task at a special commissioners meeting on Wednesday by the board chairperson Lori Serrano for not informing the board that she would be speaking to newspapers about Montgomery Gardens. Leadership questioned
Meanwhile, at the Jersey City Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting on Oct. 1, matters of leadership soon became controversial.
The meeting started off in a celebratory mood. Maio said that the Housing Authority had anticipated funding cutbacks from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but managed to not lose as much as money as expected.
Maio also touted Housing Authority's system of administrative management (known as asset management), which makes on-site managers directly responsible for the operation of the various Housing Authority complexes.
However, later in the meeting, the unpaid seven-member board of commissioners voted 5-2 to take the power to hire and fire away from Maio, who earns $150,000 annually. They followed that up by voting 4-3 for the commissioners to assume the powers of procurement (acquisition of goods and services) from her as well.
Maio would only comment that she was "surprised" that those items were on the agenda. They were pocket resolutions introduced at the meeting without prior advertisement.
Lori Serrano, the chairperson for the Board of Commissioners, who voted in favor of empowering commissioners with personnel and procurement decisions, spoke recently about the two resolutions at Maio's request.
"Due to the concept of asset management, there will be many changes that will be coming to the Housing Authority," Serrano said simply.
But Jersey City resident Telisa Dowling, a longtime affordable housing advocate who attended the Oct. 1 commissioners meeting, said the votes were an indictment on Maio's conduct as executive director since she was appointed in July 2004.
The Jersey City Housing Authority oversees housing for a total of 2,300 residents in the city. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org