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Yul Replants His Sign
by Allan Appel | Oct 22, 2013 11:03 am
Posted to: Housing, Bishop Woods, Campaign 2013
Yul Watley returned to home to find his two Toni Harp campaign signs removed from his front yard. By the time he got to the bottom of the disappearance, his simple act of planting the signs has resulted in a broader review of the rules for some New Haven public-housing tenants who express support for political candidates.
When his signs first disappeared, his first suspicion was that they had been stolen by an opposing candidate’s team. That has been known to happen in New Haven elections.
Watley, who lives in a stand-alone “scattered-site” public-housing dwelling in the Quinnipiac Meadows neighborhood, was wrong about the thief. The housing authority had taken down the signs and folded them neatly beside the house.
It turned out the housing authority may have been wrong, too. Though that’s unclear—because Watley’s house might not fit neatly into the authority’s existing policy on political speech.
Watley appeared before the regular meeting of Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) commissioners last week to seek clarity about the policy about public housing residents displaying their political preferences via signs and campaign paraphernalia on their lawns. Watley supports Democrat Toni Harp, who’s running against independent Justin Elicker in the Nov. 5 mayoral election.
“I was told I couldn’t put up a political sign,” said Watley during the public comment interlude of the commissioners’ meeting.
“Areas within the exclusive control of the resident” are permitted to have signage, replied HANH legal counsel Rolan Young.
“So if you have it in a window,” it’s OK, she added.
She didn’t specifically address Watley’s situation. His sign was not in a window, but on his front lawn.
Watley used to live at the housing authority’s Westville manor project. He served as residents council head at the time. Now he lives in a single-family home on Palmieri Street, a leafy enclave in Quinnipiac Meadows, part of HANH’s scattered site housing portfolio.
HANH owns his three-bedroom home. All the grounds are in his exclusive control—or so he thought— as opposed to just the windows and the interior, which was the case at Westville Manor. That was why he thought the sign was OK.
So why had his property manager, as it turned out, taken down the signs?
Because that’s apparently current HANH policy. “My read of the policy is that windows are fine, grounds are not,” HANH Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton wrote in an email response to an Independent question. (DuBois-Walton serves as a chairwoman of Toni Harp’s mayoral campaign.)
Click here to read the housing authority’s policy.
When told of Watley’s situation—she had been unable to attend the board meeting—she added: “If he was given different guidance, then I wouldn’t ask him or others at single-family scattered sites to remove them.”
Watley proudly replanted the signs Thursday afternoon.
“I’d done this for years,” he said.
If a HANH tenant lives in a Section 8 dwelling, a private apartment with rent subsidized by the government, the tenant must ask permission from the landlord to display a sign on the lawn, Watley continued.
If the landlord has another candidate, then he can say, “No, you’re out of luck,” Watley quipped.
Tthe Independent reached Rhonda Siciliano, a public information officer at the HUD Boston regional office to ask if there were HUD regulations about signs in developments, scattered-site homes, and Section 8 rentals.
“It’s a free speech matter in terms of what public residents can post. That’s a local decision. We have no regulations that would prevent. That would be [the decision of] the local authority,” she said.
Which was why Watley had shown up at the HANH commissioners’ meeting with that item on his personal agenda to address during the public comment section of the meeting.
To Plant or Not to Plant. That Still Is the Question
Young had not answered his question fully. “Rolan advises but doesn’t make the policy. Our policy says no on the grounds. We’ll review it in the light of the concern raised,” wrote DuBois-Walton.
Watley, who has taken advantage of all the training and mentorship opportunities HANH provides to start his own construction business, likes to mix it up with the commissioners at monthly meetings, in a friendly way.
Although he had brought his humor to his inquiry about the sign, it was no light-hearted matter. Public-housing areas often sees the lowest levels of political engagement, or at least voting, in town.
“Public housing residents sell themselves short. Yes, you live in public housing, but you deserve your voice,” Watley argued.
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It would be good to get an answer to this—I’ve seen lots of signs on public housing sites around the city.
It makes sense that residents should be able to express their views, however, it does seem like conflicts of interest could come into play, particularly since Karen Dubois-Walton is a chairwoman of Harp’s.
I see no reason why the Public Housing Authority should adopt any policy that stifles free expression of political ideas. Tenants have a voice that needs to be heard and should not be silenced when expressed in an orderly manner.
BTW—The NHReg has apparently scooped the NHI with the story of Blumenthal’s endorsement of Toni Harp. Congrats to Mary O’Leary.
Razzie, we agree!!!! I hoped I’d see the day.
Free speech for HANH tenants sounds right on.
Regarding the scoop - congrats on the endorsement.
But if you are keeping score on NHI scoops, please recall that NHI scooped
Toni herself on the contents of her own push poll.
Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you! NHI does a fantastic job of bringing the news. My only point is that they need to keep sharp and not rest on their laurels.
Thanks for the shout-out.
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 22, 2013 2:56pm
Since HANH is the owner and manager of the property, having a political sign on the front lawn might lead some to believe that HANH - a government agency - endorses a certain politician for office. Perhaps there should be a distinction between project-based developments and scattered site houses like Mr. Watley’s residence, but its a tricky situation with no obviously correct solution.
I think everyone one should be able support their candidate and even sport a sign to show it. I think it does get tricky when it is on government owned property and the possible abuse of the powers that be that can happen. I do give DuBois-Walton credit for pulling her candidate signs down(that has to be hard). But I also give Watley a big Bravo for standing up and saying he wants his voice heard!
I think that the fine line as stated in the story is if a you rent an apt. the owner of the home can say they do not want you to put the sign up because it is there property and you are just renting. So the question is the government owns the property can they have say so like a landlord…or should they just ban it so that there are no issues.
Again if I was Watley I would of done the same thing, different sign of coarse :)