Oct. 25, 2003 A St. Thomas-St. John lawmaker wants to make sure that public housing residents understand what the new leases they must sign are all about. The revised agreements have been put on the table by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), which took over the reins from the Housing Authority Aug. 20. The leases take effect Nov. 1.
Sen. Celestino A. White said he thought the changes are being made because the V.I. government had failed to live up to its agreements with the federal authorities, prompting the takeover. But HUD spokeswoman Donna White said Friday that writing new leases was to make sure the residents could stay abreast of HUD regulations and guidelines.
"Housing authorities across the country have been changing their leases
to include the community-service provision," said Donna White from HUD headquarters in Washington, D.C. That provision mandates eight hours of community service for the eligible unemployed; it takes effect Nov. 1.
Late last week the senator said he had no problems with several new terms in the lease, including eviction for tenants who commit crimes on the property and the community-service requirement. "If those individuals who are on their lease, who are under their charge as the leaseholder, get involved in criminal activities — drugs and so forth — the leaseholder can find themselves evicted. These things have been approved by the federal government and I have no problem with them as a law-enforcement person myself. That is a non-issue," said Sen. White, a former V.I. police chief.
What concerned the senator was whether VIHA would be able to hold up its end on changes in the lease that require the delivery of rent notices, since HUD wants to stop the practice of tenants making direct payments to the office of the housing manager.
"The Housing Authority cannot show that they, as an authority, are able to send out the rent statement prior to the due date of the first of the month," the lawmaker said. "So if the tenants do not have the rent statements from the Authority, they are unable to go to the bank and pay because the bank will not allow a tenant to pay the rent unless and until the tenant has in their hand the monthly rent statement," he said.
There are also questions about tenants' water bills and the provisions to be made for residents now receiving rent rebates because they need maintenance or repairs to their apartments. In some cases, the senator said, tenants' water bills may double or triple under the new agreement. That bothers him because water meters have not been installed for all dwellings, which could leave the tenants without a way to tell if the water they are paying for is the water they are using.
One week before the leases take effect, HUD's White said she was not sure if all tenants had seen their leases yet. Tenant managers for the various housing communities are being charged with getting the word out and collecting signatures. "Residents were notified about a month ago that the new leases would be on display so they could review them," she said.
Sen. White, who considers public housing residents an important part of his constituency and often goes to bat on their behalf, met with HUD Receiver Donna Ayala Oct. 10, when, he said, he had a chance to discuss the changes that have gone into effect since the takeover. One of the issues raised was the new leases.
"Although the HUD receiver wants to move full speed ahead, I am not going to allow that to happen and create a situation where the tenants are made to pay double and triple without putting in a mechanism to have the accurate payment toward the tenant," he said.
In an effort to clarify the new lease requirements, Sen. White said he had arranged a meeting Wednesday among former Housing Board of Commissioners member Carmencita Donovan and tenant council representatives with the VIHA receiver, but only two those from Paul M. Pearson Garden and Bovoni HiRise showed up.
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