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Montville Housing Authority Commission member resigns, questions practices

Montville — Former Housing Authority Commission member Sierra Davis resigned on Dec. 30, 2020, saying commissioners had become too involved in the day-to-day operations of the authority, among other motivations for her departure.

Some town officials were alarmed by Davis’s resignation and by her follow-up message on Jan. 3, 2021, which is more specific about why she resigned. Montville’s housing authority complex locations are Independence Village Elderly Housing on Milefski Drive in Uncasville and Freedom Village Elderly Housing on Liberty Road in Oakdale.

Davis's initial resignation letter says the lack of an executive director had been hurting the housing authority, which had been without one since 2019. She said it concerns her “that we have no one on-site to support residents and the position has not been filled since July 2019 even with the mayor and senior services requesting” it. She adds that “residents have complained and continue to complain.”

Davis cited specific dates when she took issue with authority commission matters. In February 2020, Montville’s Director of Senior and Social Services Kathie Doherty-Peck and Mayor Ron McDaniel told commissioners that residents and residents’ families had concerns with no one being hired to be on site.

“The mayor and I did attend one of the housing meetings to talk about the fact that there wasn’t an executive director in the position and there still hasn’t been anyone appointed to that position,” Doherty-Peck said. “I think they were taken off guard that we were there. We were merely going to have a discussion with commission members about the complaints we’ve been getting.”

McDaniel did not respond to a request for comment.

Davis said these complaints were dismissed by the commission.

“Residents continue to need help with renters rebate and energy assistance,” she said. “This was a task we seem to have always supported residents in obtaining, and current commissioners seem to think we are not required to do this, and the town can help more than 80 residents figure it out.”

Former Executive Director Mary Cahoon stepped down in 2019.

“Although I agree she needed to go, we traded one person with control for others in control,” Davis wrote. Housing authority Commissioner Mike Brower "was supposed to be the resident liaison. Instead he has become an operations manager of both properties and more of a guard than support. When I brought this up to the board in December 2019 I was outcast.”

In the absence of an executive director for the authority, Commissioner Patty Everett said she stepped in and handled the typical duties of the position as a volunteer.

Everett said the commission hired a part-time housing authority administrator a few weeks ago. She will split 20 to 25 hours a week between the two properties. Everett also said she was the only qualified person to apply in a year. The commission will make a formal announcement about who exactly the new executive director is, or in this case the housing authority administrator, when she gives notice to her current job.

“I was filling the role while there wasn’t an executive director,” Everett said. “Executive directors send out applications, process applications, show the units, lease them, post rent payments, take care of recertifications, handle eviction stuff, basically do it all. I was the one who answered the payments, made the deposits. (Brower) is there at my request because I want someone else to be there to help while I’m doing the work.”

Davis goes on to say that Brower is volunteering and thus shouldn’t have access to client files. Everett denies claims that Brower can access tenants’ personal information.

“I have had residents and possible new tenants come to my office and ask for help or complain, and there is little I can do,” Davis wrote. “If an issue arises with the daily manager, residents are supposed to be able to ask to speak to commissioners. But the commissioners are the same people running the day-in and day-out, so that's a conflict of interest.”

Everett said she has never heard Brower threaten action against a resident, which he doesn’t have the authority to do. “As a matter of fact, we have gotten positive feedback from residents, and usually the only negative thing I will hear is from someone on the eviction list,” she said.

Davis concluded her more in-depth, follow-up resignation letter by saying that to her, authority residents “are not being served, they are being managed.” She said residents don’t have the support an executive director would give them. Instead, there are “two commissioners running everything and making threats to evict for anyone who does not follow new guidelines.”

Davis said in an interview with The Day that the housing authority is supposed to have a “go-to person” for daily issues. The commission, a separate entity from the executive director, makes higher-up decisions, such as whether to put in a new well. But with commissioners running things, “The person you’re looking in the face and pleading your case to is also the person who sent you to court. That’s an uncomfortable situation.”

Davis and others have said authority tenants fear retribution for speaking out about issues on the ground.

“The only thing we’ve ever done as far as residents are concerned is send a notice out to somebody for violation of their leases, which is standard operating procedure at a housing authority, and evictions for people not paying rent,” Everett said.

According to emails exchanged in January obtained by The Day, Orrie Vardar, an employee with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, weighed in on the recent recertification process. The process, in short, is when tenants have to give information regarding possible changes in family income. Housing authority rents are calculated in part by how much money a resident makes.

Vardar asks when a new executive director will be hired, and he corrects a housing authority practice regarding recertification.

“I am confused and would like to see where that is written in the CHFA guidelines (what page, etc.) as the information that I have is clear as it says they must be unaltered,” Everett wrote in an email to Vardar. “I feel that allowing people to redact information is not truly the best option in determining recertifications or eligibility. Please understand that I have also checked with area housing authorities and no one accepts redacted information of any kind.”

Recertification, in accordance with Title 8 Housing Regulations and CT General Statutes Chapter 128, involves verification of income and assets, but not a record of daily expenses, Vardar said in an email response to Everett. Redactions are all right in some instances, he wrote.

"Bank statements are to verify assets and income interest only,” Vardar wrote. “Bank statements are not used for income verification and not for deductible expenses or record of daily expenses. Therefore, redaction of the name of payee of daily expenses on a bank statement and PII is acceptable.”

A resident refused to send unredacted bank statements, and was apparently right to do so.

Vardar also addressed the fact that members of the authority commission were conducting the recertification process rather than an independent authority executive director.

“Tenant commissioners are not to be involved in the recertification as it involves Personal Identification Information (PII) that are required to be filed in a locked and secured cabinet and locked office and performed by the Executive Director,” Vardar wrote. “Board Members are to appoint the Secretary who shall be the Executive Director and the only Board Member that is employed by the HA.”

He closed the email by saying he understands Everett is acting as the interim executive director, and asks that she "Please provide a timeline on the hiring of an Executive Director for the Montville HA.”

"Our role is advisory and to oversee compliance, so we want to make sure that an acting executive director who may not be familiar with the very specific process of recertification has all the information she needs to perform the certification in compliance with the regulations," CHFA spokesperson Lisa Kidder said Wednesday.

Davis accused the commission of other shortcomings, including not holding regular monthly meetings during the pandemic starting in March, in spite of the town, state and businesses adapting to online meetings and the town encouraging the move to virtual meetings.

Everett said the commission has members and clients that are not computer-literate, and the commission has held meetings via conference call if it has needed to approve anything pressing.

During her time on the commission, Davis said she felt she was “one person fighting against many,” her suggestions were overlooked and she was “paddling upstream for something that’s not going to change.” She said the commission is treating the authority too much like a business, with a lesser focus on the social services side.

Everett and Davis agreed that the housing authority was left in disarray when Cahoon, the former executive director, resigned. Given the authority’s improved state, Everett said she feels blindsided by the critiques by Davis and others.

“There was approximately $35,000 left in the bank, which is not a lot for a housing authority, and there were 13 vacant units out of 80,” Everett said. “We were in dire straits. I was able to clean it up. I was able to rent them. The waiting list was another disaster — half the people were deceased or no longer wanting to rent, but I was able to get everybody housed. I’m so proud of where the agency is. We went from $35,000 to $250,000 in the bank. All of our bills are paid, we’re not behind on anything, we have security cameras at both properties. We’re in a good place.”

Everett said commissioners met with McDaniel last week. If town officials or others had made complaints about the commission to the mayor, “we never got them. We can’t address anything if you don’t tell us about it. If the mayor doesn’t tell us, then as far as I’m concerned, they don’t exist.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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