Maio's agency oversees 13 subsidized housing complexes in Jersey City, using an $80 million federally funded budget from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The meeting was held in Montgomery Gardens, a complex on Montgomery Street that the JCHA intends to knock down and replace with mixed-income housing. The tenants believe they were not warned about the plans, and are worried they won't get their homes back after the transformation.
In fact, at Wednesday's meeting, one of the housing board's ex-commissioners presented an internal memo saying the agency plans to approve a developer by as early as Dec. 10 who would build new housing on the site of the demolished building.Losing their homes?
At the meeting in the complex's community center Wednesday, Maio was questioned by residents in the crowd of over 100 as well as current board commissioner Ed Cheatam and former board commissioner Lori Serrano.
Also in attendance was City Councilman Steven Fulop, who represents the downtown area including Montgomery Gardens.
The residents were unhappy at comments made by Maio last month in newspapers about the 435-unit, six-building complex being slated for demolition within the next two years. Four developers have already submitted development proposals to Maio, including one who is working on an adjacent condo building.
Residents at the meeting were upset that Maio provided this information to the press but according to them, had not given out the same information at the monthly meetings. Wanting some honesty
Cheatam said that at previous meetings, Maio had denied that there was a concrete plan for the future of the complex. Then, Serrano showed an internal JCHA memo from Sept. 23 that details a schedule for the review of proposals, including giving a developer a contract by Dec. 10.
Cheatam insisted that Maio should schedule meetings between potential developers and residents within the next two weeks to explain the various development proposals, so the tenants could offer their input.
Maio tried to defend her comments in a recent New York Times article, claiming she made them after getting a call from a reporter. Maio also said that any presentation by developers would not be scheduled until Dec. 31.
Before the meeting ended, some were calling for Maio to be "voted out" of her job.
Maio spoke to a few residents after the meeting, but her only comment to the Hudson Reporter about the meeting was, "I'm glad we had a good turnout," before walking away. Other things come out
The meeting also saw Cheatam lashing out at Maio because Serrano had to vacate her volunteer position on the seven-member Housing Authority Board of Commissioners on Oct. 22. She was replaced by new board member Raj Mukerji, a 24-year-old lobbyist for Mayor Jerramiah Healy, by a 6-0 City Council vote (with two abstentions).
Cheatam, Serrano, and others in the audience believed Serrano was replaced through machinations on Maio's part. The ostensible reason for Serrano's removal was that she did not complete the courses required to serve as a commissioner, particularly as the board's chairperson. Fulop apologized at Wednesday's meeting for voting for Mukerji (whom Fulop also praised) instead of abstaining. He also called for "more transparency" from Maio and offered his support to the residents.
Serrano, in an interview last week, provided e-mails buttressing her point that she shouldn't have been taken off the board. An e-mail from Maria Maio's secretary dates Feb. 28, 12 days after an 18-month period ended for her to take the five required courses. That e-mail confirms that Serrano was registered for an additional course, rather than being told that she did not complete the required courses on time. Serrano also said last week that she has documentation proving that she completed the required courses, but she had not provided it as of press time.
Serrano is also suspicious about the timing of her being replaced on the board, only one week after an Oct. 15 special commissioners meeting in which Serrano took Maio to task for not informing the board that she would be speaking to newspapers about Montgomery Gardens. Also at that meeting, board members had asked Maio to look at cutting positions in Maio's office, as requested by HUD based on an independent review of the Housing Authority in May.
"Maria only wants the people on the board to be her rubber stamp," Serrano said. "She was out to get me because I was holding her accountable."
When interviewed last week before the Wednesday meeting, Maio said that she was not behind the decision to replace Serrano. She also said that that the board has approved Cinciarelli as new board chairperson, and may have to rescind decisions approved at board meetings from late February to Oct. 15, when Serrano might have been ineligible.
But Serrano claims that the approval of a new board chairperson was illegal, and that any change like that required advertisement for a public meeting in local newspapers. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org