Where are the commissioners? Housing board hasn't met in five months; director and politicos point fingers at each other
by :Tom Jennemann Reporter staff writer
Aug 18, 2001 | 162 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There's a lot of grumbling going on down at the Hoboken Housing Authority. E Troy Washington, the executive director of the agency that oversees 1,353 federally subsidized low-income housing units in the southwest corner of town, said in an interview Tuesday that unless the agency's board of commissioners meets before October, the agency could be in trouble.

The board has not met since March because for the last five scheduled meetings, not enough commissioners have showed up to vote. The board is made up of seven volunteer members. Five are chosen by a vote of the City Council, one is the mayor's selection, and one is the governor's appointment.

"The blame rests firmly on the City Council and the mayor," said Washington last week. "When they appointed these people, they should have appointed people [who] would show up. They are playing politics with the Housing Authority and they think they are hurting me, but in reality they are only hurting the residents. I have dedicated myself to the [HHA] - not politics."

City Council members who have been critical of conditions in the Housing Authority for most of this year tossed barbs back at Washington.

"The man has a definite contempt for everyone that lives in the Housing Authority and for the municipal government," said Councilman-at-large Anthony Soares.

The root of the disputes

In order for the board to hold a legal meeting, four members have to be present.

Residents can file official complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Newark demanding that meetings occur.

"It's really irresponsible for the commissioners not to come to the board meetings," said a visibly angered Washington Tuesday. "They took an oath of office and a personal pledge to themselves to provide quality housing, and it is a real shame that they are failing."

Washington added that while the bills are being paid for now, once the fiscal year ends in October, the Authority will be operating without a budget, which will draw the serious ire of HUD.

"HUD can and will come in and impose sanctions on us if we don't have a budget by then," the director added. "Sanctions would mean we won't have additional money to make improvements that need to be made."

At the canceled August 8 meeting, the agenda was full, and according to Washington, unless the commissioners meet, several contracts and charitable contributions will soon be in jeopardy.

On the agenda were resolutions approving the extensions of contracts with HOPES and the Boys and Girls club as well as the Authority's contracts for legal services and paint.

"It's a straightforward budget with no real controversial operational expenses, but the bottom line is that we need to pass it, or else very bad things are going to happen and the only people [who] are going to get hurt are the residents," said Washington.

While Washington points the finger at the board, the current 4th Ward councilman and the city's administration believe that Washington is just using the lack of meetings as an excuse for poor conditions at the HHA. As noted in a recent Hoboken Reporter article, one apartment was left vacant for so long that pigeons began trying to start families there.

Washington stopped short of saying that the certain council members told commissioners not to show up for meetings, but he does believe that council and mayor are using the board of commissioners to make him look bad.

The current HHA commissioners were appointed during the reign of former Mayor Anthony Russo. But the new mayor, David Roberts, has also been critical of the HHA.

Certain supporters of both the present and former mayor began raising issues against Washington in the last year, in the months leading up to the May mayoral election.

When asked if they were trying to keep commissioners from attending meetings last week, Washington critic and City Council President Anthony Soares shot back, "That's absolutely ridiculous. Even if I did have influence over an individual commissioner, which I don't, there's no way I would strong-arm them not to attend meetings. I would do just the opposite and make sure they attend so that they can vote to hire a new executive director."

While Washington blames the commissioners and the City Council, 4th Ward Councilman Christopher Campos, one the most vocal critics of Washington on the City Council, said Thursday that the executive director is just using the board as an excuse for poor conditions as a whole in the HHA.

"This is just another example of [Washington] blaming others, when the real reason for bad conditions is poor management," said Campos. "Ask anyone around here and they will tell you that the conditions down here are awful."

Washington recently sent out a memo saying that Campos does not live in the projects, even though he had claimed to in the past.

Nice office, not-so-nice mudpuddles

Thursday morning, Campos gave the Reporter a tour of the conditions that he found unacceptable. The tour started at the HHA's main office, where Washington works. The office is a modern building finished in freshly painted peach stucco with a yard that is fully landscaped, with small yellow flowers dotting the entrance. Directly across the street from the impressive office building is a litter-covered yard that has little grass growing and no flowers. Scattered through the courtyard are several longstanding mud puddles that are covered with mosquito larvae. On Thursday morning, there was a group of youths covered in dust playing ball in an unkempt field.

"The problem isn't that [Washington] doesn't know how to spend money," said Campos and he toured the facility. "Just look at his office and the copper roofs on the buildings. He spends money, but all of it is just to maintain a fa
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