Dover Housing Authority chief to step down

City of Dover sealDOVER — Ami Sebastian-Hauer is retiring from her position as executive director of the Dover Housing Authority, saying her decision was not made “under any type of pressure” despite the organization coming under fire in recent months.

“I did talk to my [DHA] chair [on Monday] but we have not met with the enitre board just yet,” Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said. “We’re still discussing some things. I would like to start the process of retirement.

“It’s not anything that I’m doing right away because there are policicies and programs that I would like to see come to fruition with the Dover Housing Authority before I go, plus I will be helping with the transition and search for a new director.”

Ms. Sebastian-Hauer indicated that her stepping down after 23 years with the DHA is because she has a chance to take advantage of a new career opportunity.

“I have a new opportunity that’s come up and it’s just the right time,” she said. “It has nothing to do with what’s been going on with the Dover Housing Authority. There was no pressure at all for me to leave.

“I haven’t finalized everything yet, but I am planning on retiring. I’m just working out all of the details with the [DHA] board.”

No matter the reason for the leadership change, City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. says he feels like it is time for the DHA to reinvent itself and its purpose and new leadership might be able to breathe some fresh air into the high volume Section 8 affordable housing program.

“I think a change in leadership will be excellent for the Dover Housing Authority,” said Mr. Sudler, who is the official liaison between program participants and the DHA. “I think current leadership that they have had with the previous director [Sebastian-Hauer] was a little bit overwhelming.

“According to the nature of complaints that the city of Dover was receiving, the DHA was crushing the program participants and oppressing individuals to the point where they felt fearful about expressing how they felt about the leadership of DHA.”

On Oct. 20, Mr. Sudler submitted a semi-annual report to Mayor Robin Christiansen and the DHA board of directors in which there were a total of 11 complaint forms filed with the city regarding the DHA over the previous four months.

The allegations from the program participants to the DHA include such issues as:

    • Allegations of fraud in Department of Housing and Urban Development administered programs and violations of federal statutes. There was no caseworker or goal contract for the FSS-program participant to receive disbursement of escrow funds to purchase a new home after being on the program for more than three years, according to the complainants.

    • Unfair hearing procedures/practices/no due process present due to impartial and uninterested persons as hearing officers or hearing panelist.

    • Failure to exterminate bed bugs and unlawful ouster or exclusion of a tenant, non-consent of resident to change key entry.

    • Tenants’ obligation to reasonable access and landlords’ abuse of access rights with no 48-hour notice given.

    • Fair housing provision not given to a tenant with multiple sclerosis and no accommodations for a person with a disability.

    • Grievance procedures and a tenants’ denied hearing request due to the directors’ final say.

Ms. Sebastian-Hauer responded to similar complaints that came to light over the summer, saying that the DHA’s 18-member staff is doing its best when it comes to addressing specific concerns of individual residents.

The DHA operates under the Delaware State Housing Authority umbrella, which is ultimately overseen by the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We feel we are being good stewards of the federal funds we receive and that we are enforcing our federal policies and regulations fairly and responsibly,” Mr. Sebastian-Hauer said.

She said that she believes the DHA has always been open to hearing community concerns and then acting accordingly.

“We encourage our residents to help us keep their communities safe and crime-free, and we maintain good communication with them through community events, our ‘Quick Tips’, and other update memos,” said Sebastian-Hauer.

Mr. Sudler said the most recent complaints came on the heels of nine complaints he received immediately following his appointment as residents and DHA liaison.

“It’s fairly obvious that it’s time to create a new and refreshed Dover Housing Authority Program,” he said. “I believe the DHA’s board of commissioners needs to do a search for an executive director who is someone outside of Dover and outside of the norm — somebody that can get these problems solved.”

Clay Hammond, the Delmarva Black Chamber of Commerce President, said he thinks the affordable housing program has lost its way from its original intentions. He believes a new executive director could help the program re-find its way.

“It’s important to me to bring in an executive director who is committed to empowering the residents and address the needs that they have,” Mr. Hammond said. “My take on Section 8 housing is that it should be a temporary fix to help people uplift themselves. We have to help them move on to be more efficient.

“Public housing was created to be a temporary resource and was meant to help transition people in a new direction. I believe a new executive director should have a clear focus on achieving those goals, in addition to addressing the tenants’ concerns.”

Mr. Sudler indicated that was told Rufus Minsley, who is Ms. Sebastian-Hauer’s son-in-law and is currently the deputy director of the DHA, will serve as the organization’s interim executive director.

That, in itself, does not sit well with Mr. Sudler.

“It wasn’t just the director according to the nature of complaints that we’ve received from individuals that seemed to cause a lot of problems, it was also the assistant director and others involved in the DHA, as well,” he said. “The assistant director happens to be [Ms. Sebastian-Hauer’s] son-in-law, which I’m concerned about.”

Ms. Sebastian-Hauer was taken aback by the accusations.

“[Mr. Minsley] is not in the position he is in because he’s my son-in-law,” she said. “He is in his position because he has worked his tail off and moved up through the ranks. I’m not even sure if he is interested in becoming executive director of the DHA.”

Mr. Sudler, like Mr. Hammond, said he just wants to see the affordable housing program do as it was originally intended to do — put people on the path to home ownership and improved lives.

Currently, the DHA serves a total of 600 residents and has a waiting list of around 1,000 applicants.

“I’m very concerned about this situation because quite often other people have a perception they want to continue to rely on these programs and leech off taxpayers and not improve their situation,” said Mr. Sudler. “It’s these kinds of activities [accusations against the DHA] that impedes upon their opportunity to advance in the housing market.

“I think that we not only as citizens of Dover, but as a community, need to look into this because when you get right down to it, it does affect our tax dollars and where they’re going.”

As for Ms. Sebastian-Hauer and her impending retirement, she said before she leaves the DHA, she would like to get the old Boys and Girls Club in Simon Circle back up and running and working with the Dover Police Department on a Police Athletic League program.

“The Dover Housing Authority will always have a place in my heart,” she said. “Everything we do, we try to make things as good as we possibly can for our residents. I will miss my time here but am looking forward to new opportunities.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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