Montville Housing Authority residents speak out against management
Montville — Residents of town housing authority buildings say they've suffered because members of the authority commission have been running day-to-day operations since 2019.
Since publishing a story last month on issues at the Montville Housing Authority, The Day has heard from multiple authority residents and a resident's family member regarding their complaints about daily operations. These complaints include what they see as unjustified raises in rent, threats of additional charges, wanton warnings of eviction and maintenance problems, among other qualms.
Most of those living in one of the authority's two buildings — Independence Village Elderly Housing on Milefski Drive in Uncasville and Freedom Village Elderly Housing on Liberty Road in Oakdale — spoke to The Day but didn't want their names used in this story, describing a culture of intimidation and the possibility of being forced out of their homes.
Scott Precourt, a founding partner at US Housing Consultants, a company in New Hampshire, is an expert on public housing administration. The former New London resident was an expert witness in a class-action lawsuit concerning the New London Housing Authority and its Thames River Apartments.
Precourt said commission members sometimes do take over operations, which he said is not advised but OK so long as it's on a temporary basis while the commission is seeking a permanent executive director.
"The commission is there to provide oversight, not to provide management. If they're doing management, who's providing oversight?" he said. "The commission should be providing oversight of the director and all of their reportees. No one's policing the police. Now, for example, a commission could approve raises or expenses which represent a conflict of interest."
In the absence of an executive director, Commissioner Patty Everett said she stepped in and handled the typical duties of authority executive director as a volunteer.
The Town Council appoints commissioners, and the commission chooses the authority's executive director. Between the two authority buildings, there are 80 units.
Everett said the commission hired a part-time "housing authority administrator" almost two months ago to cover the executive director duties. She will split 20 to 25 hours a week between the two properties. Everett also said the new hire was the only qualified person to apply in a year. Everett said she has not been in a managerial role since the administrator started. She's helping the administrator get her feet under her and won't make a formal announcement about the hire until "she is up and running solo."
Everett told The Day that the administrator began training a month ago now and has made great progress. Tenants say they are unaware and haven't been informed that a new employee is coming in.
Tierney Tully, a resident of the authority since October 2019, echoed the critiques of other residents. She said she was threatened with eviction three times and has been targeted by housing authority leadership after each instance of her bringing up an issue to them.
"I think their first go-to is intimidation, and that probably works on a lot of people. Not me," she said.
Last year Tully adopted an emotional support animal, which led to a dispute with Everett because the lease stipulates that dogs aren't allowed. Tully found an exception in the Federal Housing Authority guidelines. The authority eventually drew up a pet agreement. Tully sent in the materials, then never heard back.
Before that happened, though, she received a letter. "Recently, we were made aware that you have a dog in your unit. You were seen walking the dog on Housing Authority property," it reads. "As you are aware, dogs are not allowed at either village. This puts you in violation of your lease. Please remove the dog from your premises no later than May 8, 2020. Failure to do so will put you at risk for legal action up to and including eviction." It was signed by the housing authority Board of Commissioners.
Tully said she also received a "notice of termination of rental agreement for failure to comply with obligations" in the same timeframe. In a letter signed by attorney Peter W. Hoops, she was accused of being verbally abusive and threatening to a staff member. Tully denied those allegations, recalling only a conversation with Mike Brower, the tenant commissioner on the housing authority commission, when he allegedly chastised her for not warning the authority about her dog before she brought it in and told her she was in violation of her lease.
Tully said the housing authority sent her a bill six months later for $175 for legal fees. She asked a lawyer if she could challenge it and was told not really.
"Are you kidding me, you mean they can sit there, pick something out of the lease, make a bogus claim that I violated the lease, and they get by with that? 'Yeah, pretty much.' So I paid it," Tully said. "I was homeless when I got to this place, and I'd be homeless again if I get turned out. I'm a brassy broad, but I try to be conscious of possible repercussions."
Everett said notifying residents of violations of their leases "is not threatening anyone." She said violations of leases and authority protocols, as well as of pandemic rules, can lead to a legal notice, which comes with the legal fee to write and serve it, "but we try to verbally remind them before going to the next level."
Tully was the subject of emails exchanged in January obtained by The Day between Orrie Vardar, an employee with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, and Everett. Vardar weighed in on the recertification process, which is when tenants have to give information regarding possible changes in family income. Housing authority rents are calculated in part on residents' income.
Everett had told Vardar that the authority was having an issue with Tully because she was redacting line-by-line purchases from her bank statements. "I feel that allowing people to redact information is not truly the best option in determining recertifications or eligibility," Everett wrote in an email. "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, not a record of daily expenses, Vardar said in a response to Everett.
"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."
The authority had threatened eviction against Tully in November 2020 — months before hearing Vardar's opinion — during the recertification process because of the redactions in her bank statements. Tully said she has received no notice of whether she was recertified or whether she will have a new lease.
She and others said Everett and Brower have lost sight of the social services side of the authority. She criticized the hiring of a part-time administrator rather than a full-time person to cover both housing authority properties. And she reveled in the possibility of not having to answer to Brower or Everett any longer.
"I think they should be invited to resign. I don't think they should remain as commissioners. They're toxic. The place is run like a gulag," Tully said.
She said she hasn't once felt the authority commission was a safe place to share concerns. Tenants say that rather than feeling comfortable going to tenant commissioner Brower, they see him as a spy relaying information to Everett.
Everett defended the authority against tenant accusations. She said she's proud of how far it's come in the past years. "I am just very hurt over this whole thing, and as I told you, very disheartened, but it won't stop me from helping the elderly and disabled residents who call upon me," she said.
Mayor Ron McDaniel has told people from town officials to Tully that there's not much he can do to remedy the issues at the housing authority.
"I had received some complaints from residents that were related to changes being made regarding locks, leaving objects outside in common areas and an access issue to air conditioning during a power outage," he wrote in an email. "They have hired an administrator who, I am told, is entering all the data into a new system. This will allow a separation between authority members and residents, which should provide a comfort buffer. ... From all the research I have seen, the town does not really have any authority beyond making appointments and/or reappointments."
Everett said the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority is the housing authority's oversight body, although it receives no funding from the state agency.
"This is not subsidized housing. This is elderly/disabled housing and the only monies received are rents," she said. "The base rents are very low, so it is affordable to most elderly/disabled adults."
Aaron Turner of the state Department of Housing did not respond to a request for comment about oversight of the authority.
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