Hunt for new housing chief continues

By Ron Leir

It’s back to the drawing board for the Harrison Housing Authority.
The HHA board of commissioners voted earlier this month to suspend its search for a new executive director.
The commissioners instructed consultant Robert Graham to readvertise for applicants and start all over again, according to interim Executive Director Zinnerford Smith.
Smith said  Graham is in the process of revising the solicitation for the  new housing boss.
“When the new advertisement is ready,” Smith said, “the board will review it and authorize the readvertisement.”
Asked why the commissioners felt they needed to undertake the process anew, Smith said: “They felt they could get more candidates – better-quality candidates – if they did it again.”
Smith said the initial round of advertising drew 52 applicants but half the applications were “just from people looking for work.”
That’s probably a reflection of today’s harsh economic climate and the desperation of people trying to find a job, Smith suggested. Unfortunately, none of those 26 applicants had the qualifications required under federal housing guidelines to be considered seriously for the job, he said.
As for the remaining 26, Smith said the commissioners simply wanted to widen the pool. He said there would be no restrictions on any current candidates reapplying.
The initial posting for the position noted that “a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in business or public administration, law, urban planning or a related field and a minimum of five years experience in upper level management in low and moderate income housing setting (is) required.”
The posting added that “individuals with non-PHA (Public Housing Authority) backgrounds, possessing outstanding qualifications at executive level function and proven records of achievement and vision will be given serious consideration.”
Applicants were required to have certification as a Public Housing Manager or  Certified Property Manager or secure either certification “within a year.”
In other business, Smith said the $1.4 million installation of new air-conditioning units in the Harrison Gardens complex is nearing an end – just in time for summer.
On another housing front, the four remaining trustees of the nonprofit New Town Community Development Corp. (which had been hoping to develop the town’s first affordable senior citizen residence, on a vacant parcel at 774 Harrison Ave.) resigned earlier this month.  They also authorized the group’s volunteer executive director, Michael Rodgers, to transfer the property deed to the town and renew the insurance if necessary, and then voted to dissolve the corporation.
New Town’s action marked the presumed final chapter in an embarrassing dispute between it and Harrison over who was going to be responsible for the property’s development.
The situation was complicated by the fact that Rodgers had been fired from his job as executive director of the HHA last summer after a run-in with Mayor Ray McDonough over a personnel matter. Rodgers has since sued the HHA and the mayor, claiming he was scapegoated for trying to enforce a drug-free workplace.
Jack Rodgers, Michael’s brother and the former longtime Harrison schools’ athletic director, was one of the four New Town board members who quit. He recently issued a statement saying, in part, that his experience on that board “opened my eyes to why nothing ever gets done in Harrison, and why quality people with no other agenda but to serve are no longer willing to take part. The sad thing is that people who I thought were in government for the right reasons are only there to satisfy whatever petty wants and grievances they may have.”
For several months, New Town and Harrison went back and forth over Rodgers’ insistence that the town needed to file an endorsement of New Town’s application to the state for Balanced Housing funds in support of the affordable Balanced Housing funds in support of the affordable senior building. The town insisted  it had done that two years ago. In the meantime, the town prepared to file its own application to develop the property.
In an April 15 letter to New Town, Town Attorney Paul Zarbetski accused the corporation of “bad faith” in seeking to blame the town for stalling the project.
“New Town has owned the property for two years and has failed to secure the necessary funding for the project,” Zarbetski wrote.
Zarbetski said the town “prepared an on-line application” for Balanced Housing funds after the state recently began making available that aid directly to municipalities and was ready to file “when notice was received from New Town that it was not going to build the project.”
As a result, Zarbetski said, “New Town has left Harrison with no choice but to accept the . . .  deed (for 774 Harrison Ave.), as the town does not want to see this project fail.”
Now that the town is taking over responsibility for the property, it remains to be seen whether it will repay an open mortgage of $475,000 held by Hudson County, which in February 2009, agreed to loan New Town funds from the federal Home Investment Partnerships Program to help facilitate construction of a 16-unit senior residence.
New Town had been tapping some of the funds to pay for expenses such as demolition of the building that had stood on the Harrison Ave. parcel, legal fees to set up the corporation’s nonprofit status and to secure land use approvals, along with fees for a housing consultant, architect and engineer, plus insurance and real estate taxes.

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