Public housing residents have opportunity for input
by Laura Camper
Nov 12, 2012 | 4858 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Residents of Cooper Homes will soon be allowed to serve on the Board of Commissioners of the Anniston Housing Authority. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star.)
Residents of Cooper Homes will soon be allowed to serve on the Board of Commissioners of the Anniston Housing Authority. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star.)
At Cooper Homes in Anniston, two new lights illuminate the common area between some of the apartments, a safety feature added at the request of residents.

But it took about three years of asking to get the lights installed and David Byrd, 58, who has been requesting the lights since he moved in, is unsure why.

He was also unaware of the options he had to make the request, including the Housing Authority’s Resident Council or that he and other residents had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Commissioners of the Anniston Housing Authority. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that most local housing authorities allow a resident to serve on such boards. Anniston’s Housing Authority currently has no resident on its board, which could hamper its access to federal money, HUD officials have said.

Law establishes resident boards

HUD published a rule in 1999 mandating that housing authorities have a public housing tenant on their boards of commissioners. The rule was implemented to comply with federal public housing reforms signed into law in 1998.

HUD also specifies in its policies that residents have the right to elect a resident council to represent their interests.

“The HA (housing authority) shall recognize the duly elected resident council to participate fully through a working relationship with the HA,” the policy states.

Hollis Wormsby, operations specialist for HUD, said by email that the councils, also known as Resident Advisory Boards, are a major voice for residents. The authorities are required to consult the boards in the development of their annual plans, which include proposed capital projects and policy changes, Wormsby said.

Byrd, 58, has lived at Cooper Homes for three years. He’s been active in trying to improve what he can at the complex. He’s attended resident meetings in the complex when he’s heard of them.

Leaning forward in his seat recently while talking to a reporter, Byrd said he didn’t think the administrators of the meetings liked him talking. But he didn’t care; he thought it was important, Byrd said.

Byrd thinks a resident council and having a resident serve on the Board of Commissioners is a good idea.

“If we had more input, I believe things would work better,” Byrd said.

Safety a key concern

Some of the other residents of Cooper Homes agrees with Byrd.

Tatiana Patrick, 21, was more than willing to share some of the issues she’d had in her apartment at Cooper. She also called over four of her friends to talk about the issues. Nearly all of them had young children and all of them agreed their number one complaint was safety.

Patrick complained about mold and spiders in her apartment both of which she has notified maintenance about. She felt they were unsafe for her young children, one who has asthma.

Starlisha Mack, 21, said her 18-month-old daughter has bronchitis and the dust that builds up in the heaters and then blows around the apartment aggravates the condition.

Jacquile Phillips, 24, who lives in an apartment with her three children, summed up all their feelings.

“They need to make our environment and our apartments safer for our children,” Phillips said.

None of them knew about the resident council or remembered ever being notified about an opening on the council. They all said they would be willing to serve if only to feel they have a voice in what goes on in the apartment complexes. All five women expressed a feeling of being ignored as they tried to get the health issues fixed in their apartments, yet trapped there by their financial situations. Mack, who was laid off from her job at a chicken processing plant in Gadsden two months ago, said she would move out of “the projects” if she could, but she can’t afford it.

Opportunities to help

Geraldine Allen, interim director of the Housing Authority, had said it is difficult to get tenants to commit to being a member.

Nellie McMillian, also a Cooper Homes resident, has been a member of Anniston Housing Authority’s Resident Council for about three years, she said.

Before property manager Clarence Copeland asked McMillian to serve on the board, she also had never heard of the group. However, she likes being a member of the council of seven residents, McMillian said.

“We just talk about things, different things we can do for the kids,” McMillian said.

McMillian, the grandmother of 19, was unaware that residents have the opportunity to be appointed to the Board of Commissioners for the authority. She’s not sure she’d want to do that because she prefers to work with children, she said.

“I don’t want to get too deep into this,” McMillian said.

Alina Wood, a member of the council for two years, said the council members talk about maintenance and administration at the complexes as well as plan activities. She became a member after reading about the group in the Fairview Terrace’s monthly bulletin and attending a meeting. She wishes more residents would get involved.

“So they can hear what’s going on,” Wood said of the administrators of the authority.

Wood believes it would also make the tenants feel better about their homes.

“Because they’re speaking out,” Wood said. “Letting them know what they think needs to be done.”

But it can be difficult to find residents who want to come to the meetings because of work or family commitments, Wood said.

Resident appointee within year

City Manager Don Hoyt said he has spoken to HUD about the requirement and believes appointing a resident at the end of the next commissioner’s term should be soon enough.

“It doesn’t appear to be any crisis,” Hoyt said.

Commissioner Curley Davis’ term ends Aug. 1, 2013. At that time, Hoyt said, the mayor will appoint the appropriate candidate to the board.

Star Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star
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