The HHA oversees the city’s 1,353 units of federally funded low-income and senior citizen housing. The day-to-day operations are managed by a paid executive director and staff, who are overseen by a seven-member volunteer Board of Commissioners. Some of the commissioners are appointed locally and some by the state. All of them answer to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, but HUD does not oversee day-to-day operations.
HHA appointments have been seen, in the past, as politically advantageous, as the HHA units are a frequent stop for those campaigning for local office. However, many have tried to keep politics out of the HHA.
The makeup of the board changed last summer when Commissioner Dana Wefer resigned and Commissioner Barbara Reyes took her place in August.
The board’s bylaws state that only one government-paid individual may sit on the board at any given time.
Councilman David Mello, who was reappointed to the board in May of 2017 and whose HHA term will not expire for another five years until May 2022, was not reelected to his council seat in November.
This means that he no longer receives a paycheck from the city and thus if a new seat opens the city council could appoint a city employee to the board.
Turning up the heat
The board unanimously passed two resolutions approving the repair and replacement of underground steam pipes that provides heat to Harrison Street properties.
“We had an emergency failure in our heating supply system at Harrison Street,” said Executive director Marc Recko. “We have a boiler in one building that feeds both buildings. We’ve got lines that go underground by the side of the courtyard from one building to the other to supply steam and the condensate which comes back.”
“We were frankly freaked out when it happened, and we were worried one of our buildings may not have heat, but we did a tremendous job mobilizing,” he added
According to Housing Authority Director of Maintenance Rich Goddin, the pipes were original and too old and damaged from ground water and the elements to patch.
He said they received a call from the Fire Department after an alarm was triggered in a crawl space.
He said they were able to get a contractor by 8 a.m. the following morning to put in the temporary above ground pipes for the steam line.
He said that the Office of Emergency Management was helpful and responsive during the emergency.
“I made one phone call to I believe his name is Sgt. Martinez the OEM and I said I need about 20 barricades, and within 10 minutes I had 20 barricades so he was super responsive,” said Goddin.
According to board’s attorney Harold Fitzpatrick, in the event of an emergency, the Housing Authority director can declare an emergency and issue a contract allowing the work to be done, which will be later ratified at the meeting of the board.
They also unanimously approved a resolution to have the pipes replaced between the two buildings and courtyard repaired.
The $30,000 contract will include pipe replacement as well as fix the damage done to the courtyard due to the emergency repair.
Commissioner Barbara Reyes said that the maintenance staff did a fantastic job, as residents didn’t even know there was something wrong with their heating.
“We didn’t even feel it,” said Reyes.
Awaiting word on litigation
There was no talk at the meeting about a lawsuit by the HHA’s former executive director, Carmelo Garcia. Garcia and the city and the board of commissioners have been in litigation since before Garcia was terminated in 2014.
Garcia had filed a lawsuit claiming that Mayor Dawn Zimmer, her husband, and members of the HHA conspired to have him removed from his position because he did not support the mayor’s agenda. He also said he was discriminated against because of his race. He noted that many boards under Zimmer had little minority representation.
After the firing, the HHA sued Garcia in Hudson County Superior Court, alleging that Garcia violated U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations and broke “good faith and faith dealing” by allegedly approving or rejecting procurement contracts without the board’s consent in April 2016.
A public ruling on these matters has not been announced.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.