Supporters of evicted family question SRHA policy

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 21, 2002

Two Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority Commissioners are questioning the agency’s policy used to justify the recent eviction of a resident.

Two weeks ago, Gwendolyn Bond, 31, came home to find that her family’s public housing apartment had been consumed with fire after her 15-year-old daughter left cooking oil unattended on the stove. Bond, who had lived in Hoffler apartments for five months, was more distressed when she learned shortly thereafter that she would be evicted due to negligence.

This sparked anger and concern from Bond’s family members, neighbors and some housing commissioners. Commissioners later stated the matter was out of their hands because it was an administrative action.

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But after a committee meeting last week, at least two board members told the News-Herald that they plan to initiate discussion at this week’s regular meeting regarding the policy. Housing commissioners Daniel Forbes and Thelma Hinton, a non-voting resident-at-large member, said they are unclear regarding the distinction between accidental versus negligence.

The housing authorities lease stipulates that residents can be evicted for &uot;good cause,&uot; and there is also language that references negligence. Commissioners and residents say that accidents happen, and Bond should not have been evicted.

&uot;We need to take another look at our policy,&uot; said Hinton. &uot;Our policy needs to be revised to make a distinction between accidental as opposed to negligence.&uot;

Forbes recalled that when he was a landlord he did not penalize residents for unforeseen damage to property. For example, when a storm caused damage to the screen door of one of his rental properties, Forbes said, he assumed the cost because the resident was not negligent in his opinion

&uot;I am in the dark – How do you tell what’s an accident as opposed to negligence?&uot; asked Forbes, who added that he would like the board to discuss the policy during this week’s meeting. Other commissioners questioned during the meeting said they did not have enough information regarding the incident to comment.

Bond faces repaying the agency the more than $10,000 in damages incurred at the unit. The fire caused Bond and her four children to lose their furniture and nearly all clothing, amounting to an estimated $4,000. The Red Cross immediately moved in to provide assistance to the family, including a three-night hotel stay. Since that time, the family has been splitting up staying from one relative to another’s home.

&uot;The worse part about it is splitting up the family,&uot; she said.

According to Bond, SRHA Executive Director Clarissa E. McAdoo and other staff told her she could not be placed in other public housing, and that Section 8 assistance is not an option. Bond was hoping that her emergency status would give her priority on the Section 8 waiting list.

McAdoo was unavailable for an interview this past week; however, she left a message with the News-Herald that she plans to initiate monthly briefings with the press the week prior to each board meeting. McAdoo stated that she would outline pending board actions, and answer other questions during these sessions.

Bond’s mother, Susie Golden, said the housing authority’s response to this incident is baffling, considering that McAdoo and the agency had been so vital to her efforts to become self-sufficient and purchase her first home recently.

&uot;I am just shocked by this treatment,&uot; said Golden. &uot;McAdoo was so nice and she was 100 percent behind me. They (the agency) had a home dedication for me and everything.&uot;

Because of the reason the agency exists in the first place, Golden added that she thought the housing authority would have offered more supportive services to her daughter.

&uot;I just can’t understand this. Isn’t the housing authority supposed to assist low-income people who need housing?&uot; questioned Golden.

&uot;It (the fire) was an accident.&uot;

Last week, Bond returned to her job at the Virginia Department of Transportation, which has been very helpful throughout the ordeal, she said. She has also been apartment hunting, but has had no luck to date.

Bond is hopeful that she can obtain a three to four-bedroom subsidized unit at one of the independently owned developments in the city. She paid $48 per month at Hoffler Apartments based on her family size and income.

Bond works part-time and is hopeful that her hours will increase to full-time status. Meanwhile, paying $500-$600 per month for rent is not in her budget, she said.

&uot;I just can’t afford to pay that kind of money,&uot; said Bond. &uot;I am just leaning and depending on God.&uot;

To provide assistance to the Bond family, call 934-6123. Simply put, Bond said the family needs everything such as clothing, shoes, furniture, and curtains.