SRHA rethinking its lease provisions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 28, 2002

With one family’s recent eviction resulting from a fire and two more that will likely follow, the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners has decided that it’s time to take a second look at its lease provisions.

During its monthly meeting Tuesday night, commissioners toiled with the lease after Resident-at-large member Thelma Hinton and board member Linda Brown expressed concern that the agency’s policy lacks compassion. Board members have been grappling with this issue since the July eviction of former Hoffler apartments resident Gwendolyn Bond and her four children, one of whom left grease unattended on the stove while the mother worked.

Hinton has been aggressively challenging the housing authority to reinstate Bond’s family; however, the agency maintains that its insurance policy prohibits such action. Bond is relocating the family to North Carolina after failing at finding other housing in Suffolk.

Email newsletter signup

Just in the past three weeks two more accidental fires have occurred in the agency’s housing. The fate of these two families has not been determined. Brown stated that one of the latter victims told her she was given 30 days to relocate. According to Brown, the resident became ill and stepped out of the unit for assistance when the fire erupted.

SRHA Executive Director Clarissa E. McAdoo countered that she was told another version by management, indicating that the resident was talking with a neighbor when she learned her unit was on fire, and then went into a seizure stemming from the shock. McAdoo added that an official notice of eviction has not been sent to the resident as yet.

Board members instructed McAdoo to evaluate this case further, prior to issuing final ruling.

&uot;We need to investigate it fully and take appropriate action,&uot; said SRHA Board Vice Chairman Charles W. Cary II. &uot;I know that Mrs. McAdoo is going to do what’s right for the housing authority and our clients.&uot;

Brown stated that she believes &uot;the board should look at our insurance policy,&uot; adding that she would prefer the residents be able to pay the deductible and remain housed by the agency.

&uot;I believe in accountability,&uot; Hinton expressed to the board, &uot;but kicking them out and putting them out on the street?&uot;

Commissioner Helivi Holland commented that the housing authority’s task on this matter &uot;is to decide what we’re going to determine is negligence and how much negligence we’re going to accept. We’re not going to be able to put in a situation that will fit every scenario.&uot;

McAdoo acknowledged that the lease could use some clarity, but stated that the governing lease stipulations must be guided by the agency’s charge to protect the interests of the residents and the housing authority’s bottom line.

&uot;We have to look at the benefit to all our residents and how do we make sure we continue with an insurance policy,&uot; said McAdoo.

Overwhelmingly, board members agreed that the language in its lease needs fine-tuning to ensure that residents clearly understand the document, and to gain consistency with terminology used by the fire department to label a fire’s cause.

Residents have expressed confusion over the fire department’s labeling of &uot;accidental,&uot; as opposed to negligence by the SRHA. McAdoo said the housing authority’s wording is not parallel to the fire department, meaning that an accidental fire does not cancel out liability.

Howard W. Martin Jr., the SRHA’s legal counsel, stated that his experience with area housing authorities dictates that fires caused by the residents generally result in eviction. Exceptions to this principle include &uot;acts of God,&uot; and fires deemed to be the fault of the agency, such as faulty wiring, for example.

&uot;Negligence is a basis for terminating rights to public housing,&uot; said Martin.

McAdoo said the development of the lease provisions is an involved process that traditionally includes the legal aide input to ensure that the residents’ interests are protected.

Over the years, the lease has been slightly revised; however, it was &uot;inherited&uot; by the commission, Martin stated. He encouraged the commission to review the lease, and continue to use the contributions of legal aide and other components to shape the document.

&uot;This is a good liberal approach and one that will ensure a better document,&uot; Martin said. &uot;You need something that virtually anybody can look at and everybody agree on what it says.&uot;

McAdoo anticipates that it would be at least January before any new lease provisions would enter the stage of public hearings. Input from staff and focus groups are planned to kick off the process of reviewing the agency’s lease in the coming weeks.