Hous­ing author­ity hears rent hike con­cerns

Record Observer - - News - By MIKE DAVIS mdavis@kibay­times.com

CENTREVILLE — Crammed in­side an of­fice room in a multi-use fa­cil­ity in Centreville were some of Queen Anne’s County’s el­derly pop­u­la­tion, gath­ered to speak in op­po­si­tion Mon­day evening, Oct. 23, to a pro­posed rent in­crease to Queen Anne’s County Hous­ing Author­ity prop­er­ties.

The room, home to the Hous­ing Author­ity, which is not part of the county govern­ment af­ter a de­par­ture from the sys­tem in 2012, had about 10 seats avail­able for meet­ing at­ten­dees to sit in. The rest of the 30-plus se­niors stood in the hall­way wait­ing for their chance to speak.

Each per­son had two min­utes to ad­dress the Hous­ing Author­ity Board of Di­rec­tors to ex­press their con­cerns about the pro­posed rent in­crease and Rent In­crease Hard­ship Pol­icy. When all was said and done, at least 30 peo­ple had spo­ken in op­po­si­tion.

Af­ter the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod, the Hous­ing Author­ity tabled the Rent In­crease Hard­ship Pol­icy agenda item to al­low time to di­gest the pub­lic’s con­cerns and fur­ther con­sider the pro­posal.

Speaker af­ter speaker told sto­ries about how liv­ing in their re­spec­tive Hous­ing Author­ity-run home — Ter­rapin Grove, Foxxtown and Gra­sonville Ter­race, Fisher Manor, River­side Es­tates, Safe Haven Manor — be­gan well but slowly went down hill.

Be­tween the va­cant rooms at the sites to al­leged poor main­te­nance of the fa­cil­i­ties over the years, res­i­dents were livid, dis­traught and sim­ply heart­bro­ken, as one res­i­dent said, at the author­ity’s pro­posed rent in­crease.

Res­i­dents re­peat­edly told the author­ity they un­der­stood rent in­creases would be nec­es­sary and ex­pected, but ex­pressed dis­plea­sure and shock at the sud­den jump their monthly bills would take.

Pat Baker, a Ter­rapin Grove res­i­dent, said a $20 or $25 rent in­crease would be un­der­stand­able, but the $70 to $90 in­crease that was pro­posed, de­pend­ing on the size of the room, was too much. She asked the board mem­bers, as many other speak­ers did, if she should cut med­i­ca­tion or food out of her bud­get as the rent in­crease would make it too dif­fi­cult to pay for those ne­ces­si­ties.

Baker said she worked all of her life to be­come a se­nior and live in the “golden years,” but “I’m still look­ing.”

Betty Robinson of Gra­sonville Ter­race, who has lived there since 2000, said the let­ter the Hous­ing Author­ity sent its res­i­dents in­form­ing them of the Dec. 1 rate in­crease, for some $70 per month, for oth­ers, $90, was scary.

“This is an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion for me,” Robinson said.

Shirley John­son, a Ter­rapin Grove res­i­dent since the day the fa­cil­ity opened, said she was “dis­gusted” with the pro­posal. Hav­ing sur­vived can­cer, John­son went on to ex­plain how ex­pen­sive her health in­sur­ance and med­i­ca­tions were.

No wig­gle room in their per­sonal bud­gets, learn­ing to live with less and threats of home­less­ness were some of the con­cerns told to the author­ity.

Tyler John­son, a Gra­sonville Ter­race res­i­dent, said he didn’t un­der­stand how the author­ity could jus­tify the rent in­crease af­ter years of di­min­ished main­te­nance and ser­vices. John­son spoke about mold in rentals that wasn’t taken care of for more than a year and the dif­fi­culty get­ting some­one to clean the gut­ters.

He said the rent checks weren’t cashed un­til the mid­dle of the month, ques­tion­ing why they did it so late if they were tight on money as Jeremy White, Hous­ing Author­ity ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, said.

“You don’t do any­thing to de­serve this money,” John­son said.

Bon­nie Wal­ter of Ter­rapin Grove, also a mem­ber of the Queen Anne’s County Ag­ing Com­mis­sion, asked the author­ity to share the for­mula they used to de­ter­mine the ex­act rate in­creases. She said many peo­ple were still fill­ing out the Hard­ship re­quest forms, which would de­fer half the pro­posed monthly rent in­crease to Dec. 1, 2018 when res­i­dents would then have to pay the full amount per month.

Cather­ine Wil­lis, direc­tor of the Depart­ment of Community Ser­vices, re­quested the author­ity ex­tend the Hard­ship re­quest ap­pli­ca­tion date as her of­fice, as well as other county staff, have worked with res­i­dents to get the forms com­pleted.

Wil­lis said she mir­rored the state­ments of all the speak­ers as she is an ad­vo­cate for the el­derly. She said she agreed with in­cre­men­tal in­creases to the rent fol­low­ing poli­cies and pro­ce­dures set forth by the state.

White told the at­ten­dees the rent in­crease was nec­es­sary due to lost rev­enue and var­i­ous bud­get cuts from lo­cal, state and fed­eral agen­cies. He said the qual­ity of the prop­er­ties were di­min­ish­ing and needed to have rev­enue to pay for up­grades.

The list Wal­ter was read­ing from raised ques­tions about lost in­come due to the Hous­ing Author­ity not fill­ing va­cant rooms, pro­jected time­lines for main­te­nance re­pairs, why mul­ti­ple se­nior

prop­er­ties lacked an AED ma­chine and why no vis­ual fire ex­tin­guish­ers were present at cer­tain fa­cil­i­ties.

White asked for the list and called many of the state­ments “slan­der­ous.” Af­ter the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod ended at about 5:30 p.m., Wal­ter asked for her pa­per back from White, which he ini­tially re­fused un­til board Chair­man James Hyn­son re­quested he make a copy.

White asked an as­sis­tant tak­ing meet­ing notes to call the po­lice on Wal­ter. When asked about the in­ci­dent, White said “no com­ment.” No law en­force­ment of­fi­cers ar­rived at the meet­ing.

James Hol­ley, a Hous­ing Author­ity board mem­ber, said the in­crease wasn’t pro­posed for no rea­son. As time goes on, he said, things get more ex­pen­sive. What a plumber used to charge to as­sess and ser­vice a bath­room has gone up, as well as the parts used to make the re­pairs pos­si­ble, he said.

Hol­ley said the dol­lar bill is shrink­ing, not grow­ing, and be­cause main­te­nance and op­er­a­tion costs are in­creased, their rev­enue stream needed to as well.

Tonya Brown John­son, a Hous­ing Author­ity board mem­ber, said just be­cause she was sit­ting at the ta­ble didn’t mean she wasn’t “in the same boat as a lot of y’all,” in terms of wor­ry­ing about mak­ing bill pay­ments. She said the cares and con­cerns ex­pressed dur­ing the meet­ing would be taken to heart.

In re­sponse to the fa­cil­ity main­te­nance, Brown John­son said res­i­dents be­gan see­ing changes to the qual­ity af­ter the county and the author­ity split.

Board mem­ber Richard Cira said dur­ing the pub­lic com­ments all the con­cerns were valid and have given a cause for con­cern and pas­sion. He said it fright­ened him that the board looked like it was push­ing poli­cies for­ward and sug­gested re­con­ven­ing to fur­ther dis­cuss the topic.

Cira said the board has a fidu­ciary re­spon­si­bil­ity to man­age the money and to come up with an­swers for the lost rev­enue over the years.

White, who has been the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor less than two years, said the author­ity was “ag­gres­sively chang­ing” as it had fallen be­hind in pre­vi­ous years. He said his first year as ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor was about as­sess­ing the pro­gram en­tirely, and now it’s time to change a lot of things to bet­ter run the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

He said it is in a tran­si­tional pe­riod now with more changes to be ex­pected.

A date has yet to be de­ter­mined for an­other Hard­ship Pol­icy dis­cus­sion. Board mem­bers said the meet­ing will take place in the next few weeks.

Some of what added to the ten­sion and elec­tric­ity to the meet­ing was the lack of space to ac­com­mo­date all the in­ter­ested speak­ers. With only a few hand­fuls of peo­ple able to fit in the meet­ing room, the rest of the se­nior ci­ti­zens were forced to stand in the hall­way as ex­tra chairs were not avail­able. Part way through the meet­ing in or­der to al­low ev­ery­one a chance to speak, peo­ple in the hall­way switched spots with peo­ple in the meet­ing room.

County Com­mis­sioner Mark Anderson, li­ai­son to the Hous­ing Author­ity, said the space prob­lem could have eas­ily been solved if the author­ity had taken up the county’s sug­ges­tion to hold the meet­ing at Ter­rapin Grove later in the week to ac­com­mo­date more peo­ple. He said he made that re­quest be­cause he knew the turnout would be large, and that peo­ple would have dif­fi­culty hear­ing and get­ting an­swers to their ques­tions.

He said this wasn’t the best place or way to con­duct the meet­ing.

County Com­mis­sioner Steve Wil­son, who at­tended the meet­ing, said he was op­posed to the in­crease. “Do not raise the rent on peo­ple with fixed in­comes,” Wil­son said.

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Hous­ing Author­ity, visit www.qacha.org.

Fol­low Mike Davis on Twit­ter: @mike_k­ibay­times.

PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIS

Queen Anne’s County Hous­ing Author­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tory Jeremy White, stand­ing left, be­gins a meet­ing at its build­ing in Centreville Mon­day evening. Res­i­dents came out in num­bers to op­pose a pro­posed rent in­crease.

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