Housing authority incompetence punishes the needy
By ROBERT I. REARDON Jr.
Publication: The Day
A guest commentary "Improved quality of life at New London public housing," published Jan. 17 and authored by the chair and vice chair of the New London Housing Authority neglects to fully acknowledge the decades of failures of the housing authority and the city of New London to fulfill its responsibility to the tenants of the Thames River Apartments to provide them with safe, habitable housing.
While the commentary asserts that the principle cause of the serious problems at the housing authority have been inadequate income to meet its costs, no mention is made of the failure of the housing authority management to apply for available federal funding and properly manage the facility to generate needed income.
In 2008, the Connecticut Superior Court certified a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all the tenants of the Thames River Apartments. As pro-bono counsel for the tenants, The Reardon Law Firm, P.C. has conducted depositions and obtained thousands of documents which support the claim of our clients that the New London Housing Authority should be relieved by the court of any further management responsibilities for this building complex and a court appointed receiver should assume those duties. An evidentiary hearing to appoint a receiver is scheduled for May 24, 2010.
During the five years this lawsuit has been pending, our law firm has been in regular contact with the Boston regional office of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which oversees the New London Housing Authority. Many opportunities to seek federal grant funding have been missed by New London simply because the authority has incompetently prepared grant applications.
The housing authority is now on its third executive director since the lawsuit commenced. The last two salaried executive directors have left the job under questionable circumstances.
HUD has cited the authority for numerous health violations, tens of thousands of dollars of authority funds have been either misused or unaccounted for, and deadlines for the grant funding have been disregarded or not met.
HUD has listed the New London Housing Authority as a "troubled authority" for more than 10 years because of its failures. Opportunities for federal Hope VI revitalization funding have come and gone. One need only look to other cities, such as Atlanta, to see what can be done with these federal grants, where high-rise housing has been demolished and new award-winning community public housing has just been constructed.
The fact is a panel of laypersons that serve as the New London Housing Authority, appointed by the City Council, cannot possibly fulfill the complex duties expected of them under federal and state law, to manage hundreds of apartments.
HUD recognized this last September when its regional office instructed the housing authority to request bids from private companies to assume management of the Thames River Apartments.
Instead of using this opportunity to seek out professionals to assume the difficult task necessary to straighten out all the problems of the Thames River Apartments, the authority publicly questioned whether a private management company could do the job better and delayed seeking help until HUD followed up with a second request urging the authority to seek professional help now.
Requests for proposals were finally made available to prospective management companies, with responses to be received by the authority by the end of this month. Let's hope the housing authority is making a good faith effort to work with interested management companies so a transition will soon be made to professional management.
The Reardon Law Firm would be pleased if it becomes unnecessary to proceed with the hearing in May for the appointment of a receiver selected by the court to take over the process of obtaining private management for Thames River Apartments. It is far better that the housing authority coordinate this transition itself.
The New London Housing Authority and the City Council should recognize the time is long overdue for the city to step aside to allow an experienced management company to finally replace the Thames River Apartments with the safe, modern, public housing as other cities have done. The Thames River tenants have already waited too long for a decent place to live.
This commentary was also signed by Reardon Law Firm members Joseph M. Barnes and Kelly E. Reardon.