Years ago, Carmelo Garcia was the Housing Authority heir apparent, and now the spot is his. Garcia, a young Hoboken politico who grew up in the city’s public housing projects, was promoted from deputy director to executive director of those same Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA) projects at a meeting Thursday night.
A committee of the seven-member volunteer HHA Board of Commissioners selected Garcia from what they said was a month-long national search. Five applications were received, they said.
Garcia said he is the first person who grew up in the Housing Authority to go on to lead the 1,373 units of subsidized housing for low-income people and senior citizens.
Garcia has been praised in the past by the commissioners for his boundless energy, and has said he wanted to fight the drug problem in the projects and improve the quality of life. But he also has seen some controversy as a young politico in town.
Several years ago, Garcia was Mayor David Roberts’ director of health and human services, until he moved to the HHA’s deputy directorship. Garcia attempted to obtain the top HHA position two years ago, but was deemed not yet qualified for the job.
This time around, the board moved quickly and unanimously to appoint him, after consideration of the other applications by the board’s Personnel Committee – Chairwoman Jean Rodriguez and Commissioners Dominick Lisa and Perry Belfiore.
Garcia thanked the board and called the promotion “a new era in leadership for the Housing Authority.” He also was clear that he did not have any involvement in the job search, aside from applying.
“For me,” Garcia said afterward in an interview, “it’s a dream come true to be in a position where I know I am constantly improving the quality of life for these residents.”
Friends and family gathered at the meeting to congratulate Garcia, including former Councilman Christopher Campos. Campos noted Garcia’s rise from living in the projects to running the projects and commended his dedication.
Garcia also sits on the unpaid nine-member Board of Education.
Residents discuss problems
After the vote to approve Garcia, it didn’t take long for residents to begin complaining about issues in the projects.
Residents said took months for the authority to get the door locking system running, and now vandalism and technical issues are torpedoing the safety measure.
Tenants complained of doors being propped open – negating the purpose of the locks – and groups of kids hanging out in the entrance smoking marijuana within smelling distance.
According to board member Hector Claveria, a door at another HHA building was locking out residents, who then had to be let in from the inside.
Garcia said vandalism can’t be stopped, only maintained. But he said the technical issues are being taken care of as they come up.
Outgoing executive director Robert DiVincent said the door locks and entry systems cost roughly $250,000 per building.
Executive director contracts range from one to five years and from about $125,000 to $150,000.
Board members said the Authority was ready to renegotiate the contracted hiring of off-duty police officers to patrol the projects, but that there is still an issue with documentation of previous work that has left payment to the Police Department hanging in the balance on different occasions.
Transition and negotiation
Garcia is tagged as the “acting” executive director for now, until the state Department of Community Affairs finishes their background check in conjunction with the Attorney General’s office, according to the board’s resolution.
DiVincent, the outgoing executive director, will be offered a consulting contract to ease the transition for Garcia. DiVincent is also the director of the West New York and Weehawken housing authorities. He was chosen to help run Hoboken more than five years ago, after his controversial predecessor, Troy Washington, left and Hoboken needed a qualified director immediately.
Both Garcia and DiVincent have yet to negotiate their new contracts with the board and will do so in the coming weeks. Lisa said executive director contracts range from one to five years and from about $125,000 to $150,000. The board has state approval for Garcia and will wait for the background check – most likely another two weeks, Garcia said – until they sit down to discuss the contract.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.