Bernadette Holiday’s rent was raised $600 by the Peekskill Housing Authority last week, she told a packed Common Council meeting Monday night. So she now pays $1,871 for an apartment that has mold problems, bug, mice and other poor conditions, she said.
Holiday, who lives in Turn Key, one of the subsidized housing complexes run by the PHA, said she feels a stigma living in public housing but made the decision to live there so she and her family could save money to buy a home one day.
The rent increase has taken her chance to do that, she said. "And that really sucks,” Holiday said with emotion.
Another housing authority tenant told the council her rent went from more than $800 to $1,092 to $1,250 to $1,800 in a 3-year time span.
“There is something wrong with that,” she said.
The council members agreed, which is why they sent a to the Federal Housing and Urban Development office last week, the mayor responded.
“Local housing authorities need money from HUD and it can’t be taken care of on the back of tenants,” said Mayor Mary Foster.
But most of the approximately 15 people who spoke at the meeting—about eight of them Peekskill Housing Authority tenants—wanted more from the Council than the letter to HUD.
“It was nice you sent a letter but it was disingenuous, not real and you didn’t mention Phipps,” Darrell Davis, leader of the Committee for Justice, told the Council.
Davis said bed bugs, mice and physical conditions in housing authority projects are a problem, and repeated for the council to publicaly denounce the Peekskill Housing Authority director Harold Phipps and he has lodged at Council meetings over the last two years.
“We will keep coming here until he is gone,” Davis said of Phipps.
“Time is of the essence,” a PHA tenant and former board member told the council. “People are being forced to sign leases.”
“Residents of the Peekskill Housing Authority have received notices this past week indicating monthly rent increases of 18% to 76%,” Foster wrote in her letter to HUD. “The new monthly rents of $1,375 and $1,615 for a 2 bedroom apartment and $2,050 and $2,168 for a 4 bedroom apartment represent a one-year increase ranging from 26% to 56%.”
According to a national database on Fair Market Rentals, the fair market rent in Westchester County for a 1-bedroom is $1,359 per month; a 2-bedroom is $1,580; a 3-bedroom is $1,905 and a 4-bedroom is $2,349. The PHA's most recent increases raise rents higher than that.
As of Monday night, the council members told the crowd, they had not received a response from HUD.
Several other residents complained that maintenance does not fix things like light fixtures, broken doors or handle mold, bug and mice problems. They also complained that Phipps is “rude,” and difficult to deal with.
“Its unfair and not right and I believe this administration can help. You’ve been put in place for a reason, help the people,” said a PHA tenant.
Peekskill resident and former PHA chair Leesther Brown spoke in favor of Phipps, saying the problems have been there for years and are not new.
“The infrastructure has been breached since renovations 20 years ago,” Brown told the Council while other residents talked over her. Brown's comments to the council ended in an altercation after she responded to insults aimed at her. Read that story .
During the meeting, PHA tenants and members of Davis' group also claimed that the city council “sent police” to break up a meeting a tenants' group attempted to have at the Kiley Center recently.
“The City of Peekskill did not send the police cars,” Councilwoman Marybeth McGowan told the crowd. Police were responding to a call they got about the meeting, which they are required to do, she said. “We sent a letter to the (PHA) board explaining we believe you have the right to organize as tenants, come up with single voice to go to PHA board meetings."
Councilman Darren Rigger read a letter that the Council sent to the board asking it to allow tenant groups to hold meetings.
“We are concerned tenants' rights are being eroded….we are asking (the board) to join us in our call to the Executive Director to ensure that future meetings of the Housing Authority tenants be allowed to occur on Housing Authority property," the letter read. Read the full text in the PDF attached to this article.
McGowen also said the City Council’s challenge is to “get enough people on the board to make decisions that benefit everyone at the housing authority.”
Mayor Mary Foster said that the acting city manager is receiving recommendations for new PHA board members and is asking for resumes, letters of interest and bios from people interested in serving on the board.
“We are rebuilding the board this summer,” Foster said, encouraging active community members to apply for the board and be involved.
"The Housing Authority Executive Director’s contract, as I said, expires at the end of this month. I have asked the chair who is stepping in July to (have someone*) take over those duties since there is no authority to pay him beyond the end of this month. And I am told they will have a search that will be underway and they hope to have it concluded in the next two months.
That is what I know at this point. It is up to the housing authority to hire the new executive director.”
*Foster clarified in an email to Patch on June 27 that she asked the acting chair to "have someone" take over those duties, not to take over the duties herself.
Editor's note: To clarify a point about who will take over for Phipps when his contract ends at the end of the month, Mayor Foster's exact words have replaced an original sentence in this article regarding the Executive Director's contract. In an email to Patch sent on June 27, Foster said she did not say that the acting chair would take over for the Executive Director, but that she asked the chair to have someone take over these duties. She also said in the email that she does not know who will take over those duties.
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