The unpaid seven-member board of commissioners that helps oversee Hoboken’s low-income housing projects will undergo some changes at its meeting this week.
The Hoboken Housing Authority board became controversial three weeks ago after board member Jake Stuiver pointed out that one of the other commissioners had failed to complete her training courses within the allotted 18-month period. That commissioner, Marianne Camporeale, became ineligible to serve on the board in January, but the other commissioners were not aware of this, and she voted on items up until the June meeting.
Stuiver is an ally of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and Camporeale is allied with Zimmer’s opponents. Replacing her on the board gave the potential to give Zimmer a majority on the board.
After it was discovered that she failed to take the required five classes, Zimmer’s City Council majority voted to appoint Greg Lincoln to the board during a heated meeting (see our June 24 story). The move comes after the council appointed David Mello to the same board in May. Mello, an ally of Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration, took over for Councilman Michael Russo, a frequent opponent of the administration.
“They’re trying to get me out.” – Jeanne Rodriguez
The board helps oversee Hoboken’s 1,353 units of low-income and senior housing. While it may not sound like an enticing job, it is seen as a way to increase someone’s political visibility in a part of town that can provide thousands of votes at election time. Or, it can provide a chance to make positive change in a part of town marked by old buildings and poverty.
Shift in alignment
HHA Chairperson Jeanne Rodriguez said last week that since the council’s recent appointment of Lincoln, another ally to the administration of Zimmer, there will be a change in alignment.
During a reorganization measure in May, Stuiver and Rodriguez were both nominated to serve as chair. Rodriguez received four of the required votes in support. Stuiver said he received votes from himself, Mello, and Commissioner Judith Burrell. Camporeale chose to support Rodriguez at the time.
Commissioners said that due to Camporeale’s ineligibility, matters that were decided by one vote will have to be voted upon once again.
Stuiver said that the chairperson of the HHA’s board typically has the ultimate authority in choosing which items are placed on the agenda. He also said that the chairperson helps guide the meeting along, and has a more “hands-on” role when dealing with confidential matters.
When asked last week, Lincoln said that with the information he currently has about his fellow commissioners, he would support Stuiver.
“I certainly know Jake [Stuiver] more than I know Ms. Rodriguez,” said Lincoln. “I guess on that alone, I’d probably vote for Jake. But if [Rodriguez] wants to talk to me and gives me good reasons why she thinks she should stay [as chairperson], I’m certainly willing to look for those [reasons].”
“They’re trying to get me out,” said Rodriguez.
Stuiver said that if he is nominated to serve as chair at the next meeting, he will “certainly be honored.”
Mello declined to speculate about whom he would support at the meeting.
Burrell did not return a request for comment.
Perhaps one of the biggest measures moving forward is the Vision 20/20 Plan, which seeks to update the current affordable housing units.
According to Stuiver, the plan – initially presented by HHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia – calls for rebuilding and modernizing the current housing facilities. The program won a New Jersey Future award in the “Smart Growth” category in 2011 for its strategy in revitalizing the affordable housing residences.
“Like other older, urban public housing agencies in New Jersey, the HHA has a housing stock that is obsolete, below current safety and environmental standards and costly to maintain,” the New Jersey Future website reads. “The ultimate vision is the creation of a vibrant, healthy, mixed-income neighborhood with residential buildings that front the street; with sidewalks and trees that create an attractive, pedestrian-friendly corridor; and with retail, civic, recreational and educational uses that provide residents with a sense of hope and renewed opportunities for socio-economic growth,” the website reads.
Stuiver said that a major component of the plan is reconfiguring the current low-income housing structure to a mixed-income setup.
“There’s sort of a general view that conglomerating all people in a community who are of a low-income level isn’t good for them,” said Stuiver. “It’s a more positive approach to have people be among other people of different income levels.”
Mello said that current problems in the facilities include “bad apples” who have evidently lowered the quality of life through acts such as urinating in the elevators.
“Obviously the typical person who lives in the Housing Authority isn’t doing anything like that,” said Mello. “There’s a small handful of people who are doing things that are degrading the quality of life for all the residents.”
The HHA board plans to set up a meeting this week with the Community Develop Committee, according to Mello, chairman of the committee.
Mello said that he wants to explore ideas like having fewer common areas to help avoid such problems.
“I think there’s definitely a need for modernization,” said Mello, adding that the plan needs to be further reviewed before the board can move forward. “I want to improve [the affordable housing community’s] quality of life in the best, most effective way possible. [I want to make] sure I get to know this plan better and make sure that such a major undertaking is going to improve as many aspects as the residents’ quality of life as possible.”
Stuiver said the plan needs to be reviewed more closely.
“It’s a very ambitious plan,” he said. “There’s a lot of different components to it. [We] need to take a close look and evaluate all the different elements to it.”
“Honestly, I don’t think any other option other than replacing [the buildings] is probably adequate from what I’ve seen in the buildings,” said Lincoln, adding, “some of the buildings are in desperate need of overhaul.”
Garcia did not return multiple calls for comment.
For years, rumors have floated around about people being forced out of the projects, as has happened in other communities when buildings were revitalized.
Stuiver said that residents needn’t worry about being permanently vacated from their housing units.
“I would never support anything that will cause the quantity of housing stock to be lowered or for people to be displaced from their homes long-term,” said Mello, adding there may be situations that would call for temporary displacement. “I would not want to disrupt people’s lives any more than necessary.”
Stuiver said that he believes that May’s reorganization was the only matter to be decided by one vote.
He added, however, that contracts that were awarded could be subject to legal disputes from the non-winning bidders.
“This is something that happens from time to time,” said Stuiver, adding that non-winning bidders have filed suits claiming that an ineligible board awarded the contracts.
Stuiver said that although the situation has come up before, legal precedents have indicated that the board is “safe” from being liable in this circumstance.
“There’s a strong amount of confidence in our Legal Department that we are protected and safe,” said Stuiver.
The newest commissioner
Greg Lincoln currently has a career in institutional assessment for the New York School of Interior Design. Lincoln said he helps map strategic plans and assess whether organizations are living up to its goals.
“From my conversations with [Carmelo Garcia], its sounds like there is a strategic plan in place,” said Lincoln. “I want to make sure we’re assessing the viability of that strategic plan, and that we’re making the measurements in the ways that they should be [made].”
Lincoln unsuccessfully ran for City Council against current councilman Michael Russo in 2011.
Lincoln, who moved to Hoboken seven years ago, has degrees from colleges in Minnesota and Nebraska; his wife’s degrees are from Brigham Young University in Utah and from Nebraska and Northwestern University in Illinois. He traveled east to Hoboken because of his wife’s job as a faculty member at Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.