Trumbull Housing Authority
May 9, 2016
Community Room of Stern Village
Commissioners Present: Chairman, Janice Kopchik, Commissioner Thelma Burr and Suzanne Donofrio
Also Present: Executive Director Harriet Polansky
The meeting was called to order at 4:02 pm by Chairman Kopchik. Roll call was conducted followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Mrs. Kopchik moved the Resident Comments to the end of the meeting.
Discussion and Possible Action regarding the Stern Village Tenants Association – Mrs. Kopchik noted that at the February 22, 2016 Trumbull Housing Authority Board meeting, Kim from TOVAH discussed Project Reach and her role in working with the residents of the Trumbull Housing Authority through Project Reach. On behalf of the residents of the Trumbull Housing Authority, Kim requested that the Trumbull Housing Authority Board of Commissioners engage the legal counsel of the Trumbull Housing Authority to act upon the interests and desires of the residents who wish to participate in their community via the Tenant Association and ensure that they are provided with equal opportunity to do so. Minutes are available from that meeting for review.
Mrs. Kopchik introduced Attorney Chris Russo who provided the findings of the Stern Village Tenants Association (SVTA).
Mr. Russo stated he was asked to look into the compliance aspect of the Stern Village Tenants Association with regard to state and federal law. The laws were reviewed and he corresponded with multiple attorneys that were representing Mr. Littlefield who is a resident here and the Stern Village Tenants Association. They requested a number of documents from each of them.
He noted the basic path the law goes through starts with Chapter 128. Sec. 8-41(b). This Chapter of the CT General Statutes deals with zoning, planning, and housing community development. This particular chapter also talks about municipal housing projects. The section deals with tenant commissioners but also deals with tenant organizations. This was reviewed as to what direction would be an appropriate tenant organization at Stern Village. Section 8-41(b) reads
“The authority shall designate a tenant organization as a recognized jurisdiction wide tenant organization only if the members of the governing body of such tenant organization were elected through a jurisdiction wide election and such tenant organization satisfies the requirements for election jurisdiction wide resident councils pursuant to regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Housing Development HUD.”
The Connecticut law directs to the federal law for standards that must be followed. CT 24 CFR 964 is the federal regulation they refer to. This lists a number of requirements.
The purpose of the regulation is to recognize the importance of resident’s involvement in creating a positive living environment and actively participating in the overall mission of public housing. The policy on tenant participation is that HUD promotes resident participation in the active involvement of residents in all aspects of the housing authority overall mission operation. As long as proper procedures are followed, the housing authority shall recognize the duly elected resident council to participate fully through a working relationship with the housing authority. HUD encourages housing authorities to work together. The federal law is connected to the state law and they say the same thing. The important thing is that proper procedures are followed. The housing authority has a duty to make sure that proper procedures are followed and these procedures are laid out in regulation. Mr. Russo focused on the procedures which are related to the Stern Village/Trumbull Housing Authority situation.
One section is 964.115 and it deals with resident council requirements. Resident council and tenant organizations are really interchangeable. It states a resident council must meet each of the following requirements in order to receive official recognition from the housing authority. Mr. Russo stressed the requirements that were important:
1. Must adopt written procedures such as bylaws which provide for the election of residents to the governing board by the voting membership of the residents residing in the housing. This has to be on a regular basis at least once every three years.
2. Written procedures must also provide for a recall election by the voting membership and the threshold for a recall election shall not be less than 10 percent of the voting membership.
3. Must have a democratically selected governing board that is elected by the voting membership. At a minimum, the governing board should consist of 5 elected board members. The voting membership must consist of heads of household and other resident of at least 18 years of age and older and whose name appears on the lease. The term voting membership is key because if there is not a proper voting membership and your bylaws call for a voting membership, it is a fatal flaw in the bylaws. This must be according with the federal law.
4. Election procedures and standards section is about bylaws and how those organizations are constituted. A resident council shall use an independent third party to oversee elections and recall procedures. This is not the housing authority or the tenant organization. The following minimum standards for election procedures must be followed:
a. All procedures must assure fair and frequent election of resident council members at least once every three years for each member.
b. Each member of the resident council shall adopt and issue election and recall procedures in their bylaws.
c. Election procedures shall include qualifications for office, frequency of elections and procedures for recall and limits, if desired.
d. All voting members of the resident community must be given at least 30 days notice for nominations and elections. The notice should include a description of election procedures, eligibility requirements and dates of nominations and elections.
e. If a resident council fails to satisfy HUD minimum standards for fair and frequent elections, or fails to follows its own election procedures as adopted, HUD shall require the housing authority to withdraw recognition of the resident council.
The Stern Village Tenants Association would need to meet these requirements. Mr. Russo was contacted by Attorney William Palmieri who represented the Stern Village Tenant Association and Mr. Littlefield. He was requested to provide documents related to these requirements and he was unable to produce any. Next Attorney William Whewell was contacted on 3/15/16 for documents relating to meeting these requirements and several other documents. Response was received on 3/29 and no documents were provided. Mr. Russo read the response which is attached to these minutes.
A copy of the original bylaws was also reviewed but there is no evidence they have been revised. There are several requirements missing with regard to elections and voting threshold. There is also a problem with member dues being required to vote. This is not a requirement under HUD. With HUD, you have to be head of household with a lease with Stern Village. This all compromises whether the Stern Village Tenant Association should be recognized. No election information has been received. If it was not in compliance with one of these requirements, the housing authority would need to withdraw recognition. In this case, none of the requirements have been met.
Mr. Russo has instructed the housing authority, even if there was never any recognition given to the SVTA, to make clear they are withdrawing any recognition of the SVTA. It does not follow with federal or state law and violates the standards in numerous areas. Unfortunately, the attorneys for the other side did not provide any documentation or cooperate with requests. The federal law encourages the housing authority to be active in engaging a tenant organization. It was the opinion of the SVTA that the housing authority had no oversight of the SVTA. Some internal topics are not within the oversight of the housing authority but making sure it is duly elected and the voting membership is appropriate is on the housing authority to make sure it is done in accordance with the law.
The housing authority has been advised to proactively move to a duly elected and constituted organization. The housing authority and tenant organization should be working together on decisions and the law actively encourages the housing authority to do so. He is advising the housing authority to withdraw recognition of the SVTA and also push to get a properly constituted tenant organization.
This meeting was noticed by agenda and a robo call was sent out. A document request was sent to his lawyer which stated the housing authority needed this information. We did not believe this organization was duly elected and this information would let us determine if this is the case. It was made clear they did not feel it was duly elected and that a new one should be formed. There has been a lot of time put towards this issue.
Mrs. Kopchik made a motion to approve the findings of Attorney Russo detailed in the submitted Opinion Letter addressed to Harriet Polansky, Executive Director of Stern Village, on May 2, 2016 and pursuant to those findings, to formally withdraw recognition of the Stern Village Tenants Association as a duly elected tenant organization pursuant to Chapter 128, Section 8-41(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes and 24 CFR 964 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Motion was seconded by Mrs. Donofrio and approved unanimously.
Kim from TOVAH applauded the efforts of the Board of Commissioners. This situation is not typically seen and by making this motion and decision it opens up the door to work towards and establish a duly elected resident association. Kim presented a time line of events to move this forward which is attached to the minutes. She also discussed the updating of the bylaws and elections.
Question was asked regarding the League of Women Voters and the legality of the election. The issue has been that since the people were elected they have not functioned in a way that is consistent with State and Federal law. Mr. Russo noted he had requested this material from the attorney and it was not provided. It is unknown if the election was done properly. If Mr. Littlefield wants to contest anything, he would need to provide information for review. It was noted in the Opinion Letter that the association was not in compliance. Mrs. Kopchik noted that Mr. Littlefield was reminded at all the meetings that he could only speak for himself, not the tenant association.
In moving forward, we will not be mentioning tenants association. Kim noted that all correspondence will be written on TOVAH letterhead until the bylaws are approved. There is no reason to address the old tenant association.
Jackie Hyzynski –hopes that this is an end to the situation and that we can move forward before the State doesn’t have any money to help us.
There being no further business, motion was made by Mrs. Kopchik to adjourn the meeting at 4:48 pm. Seconded by Mrs. Donofrio and approved unanimously.
These minutes are considered a draft until approved at the next meeting of the Trumbull Housing Authority.