The head of New Haven’s housing authority promised to help—and asked for the public’s help—after neighbors confronted her with complaints about crime-plagued developments, insufficient spot inspections and eviction of wrong-doers, plummeting property values and quality of life in the far northeast corner of the city.
At an impassioned meeting Tuesday night of the Quinnipiac East Management Team (QEMT) convened at the Ross/Woodward School, Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton listened to those complaints. Then she walked the crowd through precisely what is within her power to do about them—and what is not.
QEMT Public Safety Committee Chair Ron Codianni charged that crime in the Quinnipiac Meadows area has gone up in direct relation to the growing number of HANH developments, in particular near scattered-site housing properties that have entered the area since the mid-2000s.
The generalized dissatisfaction with HANH’s monitoring of its developments and tenants and insufficient police presence have spilled over to more concerted resident calls for action in the last six months. That has been due to three unsolved homicides in the area since December, including the murder of beloved local teen Javier Martinez.
A “silent march demonstration” in memory of Javier Martinez and other area shooting victims is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 6 beginning at 2 p.m. at Weybosset and Smith streets. (Click here for an article about last month’s QEMT meeting, where residents’ complaints were aired in the absence of HANH officials; the story includes DuBois-Walton’s written rejoinders.)
DuBois-Walton brought members of her leadership team to Tuesday night’s meeting. They answered questions and offered an educational tutorial. They informed neighbors, for example, that HANH has little or no control over landlord-tenant issues in the many apartments where tenants receive federal Section 8 rent vouchers. HANH has authority over only its developments and scattered-site houses.
The explanations still left long-time residents such as Vince Dicesare, Carol Nista, and Leon Doyon (pictured) dissatisfied. Codianni and others reported regular and continuing nuisance behaviors and regular sitings of drug-dealing in and around scattered-site houses and developments such as the Essex Townhouses, .
“I’m not here to minimize anything, but to open a line of communication,” DuBois-Walton said.
Tuesday’s line of communication included explaining the difficulties of evicting problem tenants, even those who are convicted of serious crimes, from HANH residences. DuBois-Walton appealed to her audience to report nuisance tenants and illegal lodgers. Those are the two main, lease-breaking violations, for taking a tenant to housing court in a proceeding that might lead to eviction.
But even when a case comes before a judge, “the [housing court] system is very friendly to tenants. Plus judges say, ‘If I put people out, where do they go?’” DuBois-Walton said.
She called most of HANH’s tenants good neighbors who want the same sense of safety and good quality of life as those in her audience. With problem tenants, she said, HANH begins by addressing specific concerns, like getting rid of lodgers who are not on the lease; offering counseling, job training, and other assistance.
Eviction is a last resort. “It might seem to go slowly from the outside,” but HANH does pursue it when necessary, investigating mail trails and even at times hiring private detectives to document illegalities, she added.
Three HANH evictions in the area are pending, she reported.
DuBois-Walton said the area property manager and her staff regularly meet with police district manager Sgt. Vincent Anastasio to follow up on each HANH-related police call as well as complaints called in by tenants and from other sources.
She agreed with audience members and with Anastasio (who was in attendance) that crime at or near HANH properties well might be under-reported. For example, somebody who is initially trespassing at a development might be ultimately caught at a different location. The address at the apprehension goes into the police system, not the original HANH site, said Anastasio.
DuBois-Walton urged neighbors to call in reports of drug dealing and illegal lodgers. “I’m relying on data I’m getting,” she said.
Particularly disconcerting to Q Meadows residents was DuBois-Walton’s description of HANH’s inspection policy. She said inspections take place routinely three times a year. At residence where a problem is suspected, and a “surprise” inspection is scheduled, the tenants in question are given 24 hours’ notice.
“They all know how to play the game,” said Dicesare.
“I know people in these housing units who can get rid of their boyfriends in six or seven hours,” added Janet Benitez, the QEMT treasurer (left in photo, with Livable City Initiative’s area specialist Linda Davis).
If tenants do get kicked out of public housing development, can they then take a rent voucher to a scattered-site home? asked another audience member.
No, DuBois-Walton replied. She was at pains to explain, several times, that the “voucher” is for Section 8 housing, a federal program over which HANH has little if any control. Private landlords contract with someone who has qualified income-wise for a voucher. It is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against someone with a voucher, the same way it is to discriminate against someone who is black, say, or Jewish, she explained.
Problems at those locations are not within HANH’s purview. Nor are problems at Bella Vista, the private elderly-housing mini-city near the East Haven border. Several people in the audience seemed surprised to learn that the large senior development on Eastern Street is owned and operated by the Carabetta Enterprses. For problems there, ask Carabetta to come speak with you, she advised.
Scattered-site housing is on HANH’s plate, she said.
The program began in the 1990s after a court ordered HANH to purchase 183 homes throughout the city as a result of lawsuits following the demolition of the old Elm Haven projects. She said scattered-site has been an effort to address the policy mistakes of the last 50 years, when the city concentrated the poor in dense projects like Elm Haven. The city has replaced old projects like Elm Haven (and Quinnipiac Terrace and Brookside) with less-dense mixed-income developments, while adding unattached homes for low-income renters in scattered sites throughout town.
“We are overwhelmed with scattered-site housing ” in the area, said Nista, who has lived in Q Meadows for, count ‘em, 72 years.
Quinnipiac Avenue homeowner Vin Marottoli asked DuBois-Walton to publicly say HANH is no longer purchasing scattered-site houses in the area.
HANH is “no longer in that business,” she replied
Instead the authority is building mixed-income developments, with a range of families. The new model can be seen at Q Terrace, Monterey Place and Brookside, out in the West Rock area of the city.
In the coming years, you’ll see similar developments at Fair Haven’s Farnam Townhouses, due to be replaced beginning in October, and at a second section of Eastview Terrace. No more scattered site, she added.
Also Wanted: More Cops
While HANH was the chief target of the complaints, insufficient police presence was a close second. Especially in a district as big as District 9, which stretches from the North Haven border down to the Annex. Sgt. Anastasio respectfully differed, saying he has always found the resources to deploy extra cops to problem areas.
He cited as a problem an increasingly lenient bail bond system that permits a rearrested convicted felon to easily get out of jail and continue to concentrate trouble, ofte, on the same micro-area of a neighborhood.
Thanks. Not Enough
“My take is that HANH is saying, ‘Our hands our tied. We need information from you to act,’‘’ Dicesare said after the meeting.
“They can do more. More [genuinely] surprise inspections. And at lest start the process for more police.”
DuBois-Walton said she hopes the evening will start a dialogue. She said she will follow up with Sgt. Anastasio on some specific complaints and named addresses she took down at the meeting. She said she will also urge HANH’s area property manager, Chris Civitello, to attend QEMT meetings, although that is not required of her staff. She also urged QEMT Chairwoman Beatrice Codianni to involve HANH tenants in the management team.
Codianni said the team has tried, without success. DuBois-Walton encouraged her to continue: “It’s hard to be part of something where you feel you’re being blamed.”
“Teeth” & Tougher Bail
At the state level, 97th District state Rep. Robert Megna (at left in photo) promised to “look into tweaking the landlord-tenant law to give [HANH] more teeth to do an eviction for a nuisance tenant.”
Megna added that in his capacity as chairman of the state assembly’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee, he would look into how the state might better “regulate surety bonds. We can revisit the requirements to make it [bail] what it’s supposed to be,”
Ron Codianni (at left in photo) said he has formed a Quinnipiac Meadows homeowners association to replace, by advocacy and the ballot, officials who are not responding to his community’s needs.
He’s starting with DuBois-Walton. Codianni said his group is seeking a meeting with with Mayor Toni Harp. The aim: To urge her to replace DuBois-Walton as HANH chief.