By Ron Leir
This summer, public housing residents of Harrison Gardens are breathing free and easy.
That’s because it’s the first summer everybody has cool air flowing through their apartments, now that the Harrison Housing Authority has completed the installation of central air-conditioning at the Harrison Ave. complex.
“It’s the first time the agency is providing air-conditioning as part of the tenant’s lease,” explained HHA Interim Executive Director Zinnerford Smith.
“Tenants have to pay for a portion of the cost – it’s not a free ride,” Smith said. “We figure $25 a month is a reasonable fee. And if the tenant doesn’t pay the fee, we can turn off the individual units remotely.”
Before this, if tenants wanted to cool their individual apartments, they had to go out and buy a window unit and get it installed.
But last year, the HHA decided to give everybody a break from dealing with hot weather and hired AMCO, a Kenilworth firm, to put in the new system to service all 214 apartments in the complex for about $1.3 million.
Smith said the agency used in-house capital funds to finance the project.
The 54 units at Kingsland Courts, the other public housing cluster – on William St. – were previously air-conditioned.
Temperature of the A/C in the apartments can be regulated by thermostat.
As for how the new system’s been working: So far, so good.
Smith and HHA Commissioner Larry Bennett say they’ve heard no complaints from anyone. “As far as I know, everybody’s happy,” Bennett said.
And, certainly from a recent random sampling of residents at the Gardens, that seems pretty much true.
Longtime tenant Kay Glaser, who occupies a four-room apartment, has one unit in her living room. “This is enough for me,” Glaser said. “Before, I had my own air-conditioner in the window, but I got rid of it.”
Tenants Joan Fearns and Carol Schmidt said they were pleased with the service. “Mine works very well,” Fearns said. “You can set (the thermostat) and I like it at 70 (degrees).” And Schmidt said her unit cools her living room and a bedroom.
Another resident recalled having some initial mechanical problem with the unit but after notifying the HHA office, there was a quick response and now the A/C is working properly.
The only note of discord was sounded by tenant Marie Mattia who said that while her single unit – installed in her parlor ceiling next to the windows – is adequate for that room and the kitchen, it “can’t cool the two bedrooms around the corner from the unit.” So she bought two fans for the bedrooms.
In other developments, Smith said the agency was recently informed by Rep. Albio Sires’ Washington office that it has been awarded $630,000 in public housing funds for capital improvements.
It is likely, Smith said, that the HHA will apply those funds to the pointing of brickwork at the various Gardens buildings and to upgrade the children’s playground where “there is a high priority to remove any tripping hazards.”
Also, with the aid of its search consultant, Robert Graham of APM Management Consulting, the HHA board has approved a new solicitation for a permanent executive director.
The board hired Smith a little more than a year ago – on Aug. 19, 2010 – to replace Michael Rodgers, after a majority of the board voted to fire Rodgers with no announced reason. Rodgers subsequently sued, alleging he was dumped for enforcing a drug-free workplace rule involving a relative of Mayor Ray McDonough. Smith began his job Sept. 7, 2010, with the expectation that a permanent director would be on board within six months.
Eventually, more than 50 applications were received, but the board hired no one, agreeing only to extend the search period. On May 11, the board voted to temporarily suspend its search, claiming it had failed to attract sufficient qualified applicants, and directed search consultant Graham to redraft an advertisement for the position and then extend the search.
The new solicitation requires candidates to have “two years experience as an executive director or three years experience as a deputy executive director in a public housing authority” and “a minimum of five years . . . of progressively senior level experience in a public housing authority . . . .”
Additionally, the advertisement states: “An ideal candidate will have completed the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Local Housing Authority Training Program; have a baccalaureate or advanced degree in public administration, finance, business; and have exceptional references from previous employers.”
And the advertisement specifies a salary range of “between $80,000 and $100,000.” (Rodgers had been making about $160,000.)
The solicitation sets an application submission deadline of Oct. 21, 2011.