The Hoboken City Council named Barbara Reyes, the community programs supervisor at HOPES, to the local housing authority board at last week’s meeting after two other applicants were each one vote away from being appointed.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“I just want to say, I’m just asking you guys, no matter what decision you make that you just make for what is best for the residents of the housing authority,” Reyes said during public comment on agenda items at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I want to make it clear to this council, as well as the public that’s listening and any resident that’s listening, that yes I was on the board years ago replacing Ms. [Dana] Wefer, unfortunately during that time my mom’s health was deteriorating. I decided to go ahead and put in another application because I knew I could not dedicate the time to the board at that time.”
Reyes was appointed to the HHA board in August 2017, but resigned less than a year later after her mother became ill. She said that her mom has since passed away and her children are now old enough where she feels she can dedicate the time the board deserves.
“I’m calling in tonight, with all due respect, because again a racist act was committed and don’t try to cover it up … I don’t like the deceptiveness, people being deceived about the whole process,” Pat Waiters, who lives in Section 8 housing, stated.
” … These people, and you know who you are, tried everything under the sun to prevent me from being on the board but the last malicious move that you did is go and say that you have to be a resident – you owe us answers.”
Under guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), at least one member of the housing authority board is supposed to reside at one of their buildings, though that guideline hasn’t always been followed in the past.
Waiters continued that it was racist for the council not to give her consideration for that reason and was also highly critical of Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s appointment of James Sanford last month.
Lavon Smith, who was appointed by Bhalla last year but was passed over in favor of Sanford this time around, was another candidate seeking council approval to continue his service on the board (his term technically expired on May 3rd).
“I am a career educator: I’ve had 17 years in education, 10 years as a math teacher and the last seven as a math supervisor and assistant principal. I also hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, master’s degree in education, master’s degree in accounting, and a master’s degree in business,” Smith began.
” … The reason I’m speaking tonight is my concern that, as the only African-American member of the board, without myself or Ms. Waiters serving on the board the only predominantly Black community in Hoboken will not have any representation that is Black.”
Prior to the vote on Waiters appointment, both Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco and 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco advocated for her to get the council’s approval.
“Pat speaks loudly, she speaks with passion though. Pat sometimes doesn’t say the facts right, but her heart is in the right place. Pat has always cared about the housing authority … Give Pat Waiters a chance to show that she has a place in Hoboken, she has a place on the housing authority, and that she’s ready to lead,” Defusco stated.
Shortly afterwards, the council eventually voted 4-4(1), with DeFusco, Falco, 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo, and Council President Ruben Ramos voting yes. 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino abstained.
Prior to the vote on appointing Smith to the HHA, Ramos said that his resume and track record speaks for itself.
“He speaks for people who can’t speak for themselves, and sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, but that’s okay too.”
Furthermore, Giattino said she was impressed with Smith’s work on the Hoboken Relief Fund, saying he was “extremely organized” and was effective at managing their social media, but still believed the seat should go to a housing authority resident.
Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour indicated that she asked corporation counsel to look into the public housing residency requirement after HHA commissioners told her that the board is not currently in compliance after a recent HUD training.
“The council was provided with a memo from corporation counsel that affirmed that is a current regulation under HUD and that in fact was not in compliance with such a regulation and may jeopardize funding to the housing authority, which I think is very concerning.”
Later, Russo said that he agreed with the sentiment that an HHA resident’s voice should be heard on the board, saying they should up the ante in the future by appointing at least one other resident.
In Hoboken, the city council appoints five HHA commissioners, the mayor appoints one, and the governor names the other.
The vote to appoint Smith failed 5-4, with DeFusco, Russo, Ramos, and Falco voting yes, while Reyes was appointed unanimously (9-0).
During the second public portion, Smith questioned why certain council members had suddenly taken an interest in the public housing requirement, yet no one called for Commissioner Aaron Lewit’s resignation over a conflicted vote, according to HUD.
At the end of last year, the HHA voted 4-3 to approve contract for five PBVs to MBS Housing Urban Renewal, LLC – which is managed by the Hoboken Community Center – a board that Lewit also sits on, as only HCV reported.
HUD Director of the Office of Public Housing Theresa Arce wrote in a letter last month that Lewit should not have voted and therefore the vote should be rescinded.
Toni Tomarazzo, a member of the Hoboken Community Center board that provides housing for 96 men at risk of being homeless, said during the council meeting’s public portion that it was “unfathomable” they were running this program “without material and subsidized housing support.”
She continued that they are still of the belief that HUD’s opinion “is not factual.”
The HHA board convenes Thursday at 7 p.m. via Zoom.