After a teenager was shot to death in his family’s apartment in the Hoboken Housing Authority projects last month, the City Council approved funding for new doors following much debate.
The resolution follows the death of Housing Authority resident Adrian Rivera, 18, who was shot and killed in his home last month. Police said that large quantities of marijuana were found in the apartment and that he had known the alleged attackers from childhood. Two young Jersey City men and a teen have been arrested.
Two weeks ago, officials held a community meeting in which several residents discussed their safety concerns including open, outdated doors.
While all members of the council agreed at their meeting on Wednesday night that the doors needed to be replaced because they pose a safety risk for residents, some council members wanted to table the resolution to determine if they were authorizing the correct source of funding.
The HHA is run by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and overseen by a seven-member volunteer Board of Commissioners and a paid director and staff. But it has grappled on and off with facilities problems for years.
The amount “up to $360,000” would come from the City Capital Fund. The fund was established from a settlement of litigation and can be spent on projects, according to the resolution, “consistent with the Housing element of the Master Plan, and the replacement of doors… is consistent with the Master Plan.”
According to Community Development Director Brandy Forbes, the fund was set up for affordable housing purposes and was funded by a settlement through the bankruptcy of the Tarragon Corporation in 2009.
The HHA is funded by rents and federal money and is autonomous from the city, which is funded by property taxes. The city did not discuss whether it will ask for federal reimbursement.
A delay to recheck funding
Council President Jennifer Giattino originally suggested pulling the resolution, which also provides over $200,000 to American Legion Post 107. The vets are planning to reconstruct their building to provide apartments for six homeless veterans.
“I’m saying wait two weeks,” said Giattino. “Let’s make sure that this is the proper source of funding. That funding is coming from the best source and the right source.”
Councilman and HHA Commissioner David Mello disagreed. “It is important for us to hear this tonight. There is a lot of concern and the doors are an issue we had already identified as a top issue that would bring higher safety to the Housing Authority.”
“The thing that resonates with me most is we have a community that is socioeconomically and racially segregated from the rest of the community and they spoke loud and clear,” said Councilman Ravi Bhalla. “They need our help now. They said we need help and it’s our job as a council to help them. We can take action now or we can take action in two weeks, but I think tabling this resolution sends the wrong message to the public.”
Council: Mayor slow with info
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said everyone was alarmed and saddened by the death of Rivera and by residents’ safety concerns but her reservation was that there was not enough backup information for the resolution.
“My concern is we don’t have enough information around the total cost of the project,” said Fisher
She added that she had asked the mayor for two more weeks but “the mayor didn’t listen. It’s so frustrating. This was given to us last Friday as a two-page resolution with no backup information. We didn’t get back up until early this week. I just want to make sure all of us are operating off of the right information. I want to ensure we give the right amount of funding to both of these projects, and our opinion and views were not respected.”
Crime necessitates action now
Councilman Michael Russo said he’d heard recently of an attempted sexual assault of a young woman in an authority building in the 3rd Ward.
“That’s a situation I don’t think you wait two minutes on, let alone two weeks,” said Russo.
Councilman Ruben Ramos said, “I think it is an appropriate time and an appropriate amount of money. Although the entire thing costs $1.3 million including doors, lights, security camera upgrades, the doors itself for all of the housing authority is the $360,000 amount.”
“Let’s show there is no difference between Housing Authority residents and residents on 12th and Hudson.” – Michael Russo
He added, “I honestly think CBGB grants are the way to go for this.”
“There are many things being said I disagree with,” said Councilman Jim Doyle. “I think it is unfortunate this is being portrayed as a political decision. The council president requested two weeks, and from what I understand it won’t stall the door installation.”
Councilman Michael DeFusco said, “We are considering a pop up park for half a million dollars with a water feature and sail [shade structure] but can’t provide doors, a basic necessity?”
Councilman Russo asked: “Is there any downside through trying to fund this in a different way if we fund it this way tonight? In the meantime, we find a secondary funding source and switch it two weeks from now or whenever it may be?”
“It is about optics in a sense,” added Russo. “Let’s show there is no difference between Housing Authority residents and residents on 12th and Hudson. I hear about the back of town frequently and I am sick of it.”
“Let’s all leave our doors unlocked for the next two weeks and live like they do in the Hoboken Housing Authority and see how we like it,” said Ramos.
Luxury vs. necessity
Hoboken resident Cheryl Fallick addressed the council on their behavior.
“That was quite a display,” said Fallick. “I for one want to thank the council president for at least trying to create some sort of a process. I appreciate anybody who wants to think things through and not throw things on a wall and see what sticks.”
“As Councilman Ramos said, there are optics in voting against the Hoboken Housing Authority or veterans,” added Falick. “It’s almost cruel to put it on the agenda before there could be some discussion on this.”
Resident Elizabeth Adams said, “I find it interesting to hear much discoursing and back and forthing and heated debate over finding funding for doors for $360,000 plus $206,000 for the American Legion. There is a lot of debate over the funding source for these doors which have been expressed as a critical and crucial need. But back in the beginning of August, when lots of folks were away on vacation, a resolution passed, unanimously I think, authorizing over $4 million for a second boat house that only a small fraction of the population of this city are going to utilize a few months out of the year.”
She added, “I find it mind blowing.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Council approves pop up park design and public discusses Washington Street
The City Council approved an updated design for the pop-up park on land acquired by the city from chemical company BASF in December. Ultimately, the land will be a 6-acre resiliency park and parking garage.
Ideas for the park’s design stemmed from online surveys completed by residents and from a public meeting in January. The project designers, KimleyHorn, changed the design to reflect the concerns and comments made during the public meeting.
In the southwest corner of the temporary park, there will be mural space, a bocce ball court, a seating area, child’s play equipment and surface games such as life-size chess and hopscotch. In the northwest corner will be an open programmable space in which yoga classes or performances could take place.
In the center is a spray feature and shaded community space, including BBQ and picnic tables, storage containers, and a seating area. In the northeast, the park will have mini golf, a bouldering and climbing wall, and above ground community garden plots.
In the southeast the park will have three multi sport courts, a seating area, and additional shade structures. The park will be surrounded by a running path with fitness stations. The park will be encircled by a fence with six gated entrances.
Councilman DeFusco said the park will be in an industrial zone where trucks make frequent deliveries and where a new storage facility is being built. He asked how the designers are addressing safety.
Adam Gibson, the project manager, said they have included a fence surrounding the park and increased the access points to be conducive with existing crosswalks which will help prevent families from trying to cross midblock to get into the park.
Gibson also said the city is looking to see where enhanced crosswalk painting and signs need to be placed.
DeFusco said he is in firm support of the interim use, but asked the city keep an eye on the area as traffic patterns and construction may change and affect the safety of pedestrians.
Councilman Ramos said he was concerned with puddling and lighting in the park.
Gibson said the park has existing drainage and that they can do patching of identified low points to help with drainage. Gibson said light will be on the existing surrounding utility posts and in the interior of the site.
Councilman Cunningham said that with the addition of Trader Joe’s to the neighborhood in May the city should evaluate traffic flow, as it could be an issue.
The temporary park will open in May.
Washington Street redesign ongoing
At Wednesday’s council meeting, Hoboken resident Mary Ondrejka said she was concerned with the curb extensions at intersections along Washington Street that will be implemented during the Washington Street Redesign.
“There are supposed to be four curb extensions per intersection right now and I think there should be two,” said Ondrejka, who said she was concerned about traffic backup caused by turning vehicles, buses using the extensions to let out passengers instead of pulling into bus stops, and the ability of fire trucks to make turns.
“My main concern is buses,” said Ondrejka. “I’ve seen curb extensions where buses use them as arrival and departure places.”
Business Administrator Stephen Marks said the four way curb extensions were approved by the council a year ago and would make street crossings safer for pedestrians as they will spend less time in the road.
Councilman Mello said he is concerned about traffic back up caused by turning vehicles. He believes cars won’t be able to maneuver around turning vehicles.
“I can see a scenario in which a car heading north on Washington Street and wants to make a left hand turn, and now there is not enough width for other cars to move around them,” said Mello.
Councilwoman Fisher said she believes the extensions will be the same width as the parallel parked cars and won’t cut into the flow of traffic.
Resident Haney Ahmed said he was “disappointed” the city hadn’t tested the curb extensions to see how it would impact traffic flow.
He said, “I called Observer Highway from the start and we are stuck with it until we admit the failure and undo it. This is the same thing, but on Washington Street, which is worse… If you want to try it out, try it out with cones, and if it is a disaster, better to fix it now then to have to rip it up later.”
“This is our main avenue,” added Ahmed. “You kill this and you kill the city.”