Dover officials, DHA clash over housing gripes

City residents, from left, Sylvia Hawkins, Regina Jackson, Rachel Reid, Martha Cherry and Ida Rios discuss their concerns regarding the Dover Housing Authority. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

City residents, from left, Sylvia Hawkins, Regina Jackson, Rachel Reid, Martha Cherry and Ida Rios discuss their concerns regarding the Dover Housing Authority. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — After hearing several complaints, two city council members are concerned about how Dover Housing Authority operations are affecting some residents’ well-being.

DHA counters that it follows guidelines in addressing resident issues, and believes a small percentage of matters indicates proper service in a high volume Section 8 affordable housing program.

Serving as official liaison between residents and the DHA, Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. recently said he was troubled by nine complaints he’d received since his appointment.

Councilman Fred Neil expressed similar reservations after meeting with six residents in early August as invited media sat in on the conversation.
“I recognize that from the evidence presented the situation at DHA is unhealthy at best,” Mr. Neil said this week.

On June 10, Mr. Sudler submitted a semi-annual report to Mayor Robin Christiansen and the DHA board of directors. In it he outlined allegations of unfair housing practices from residents covering:

• Retaliatory activity due to resident’s right to make a formal complaint against DHA administration to the mayor’s office.

• Unfair hearing procedure/practices/no due process present due to impartial and interested persons as hearing officers or hearing panelist.

• Lack of scheduling informal/formal review and hearing proceedings in a reasonable/expeditious manner after verbal or written request from the program/voucher participants have been made.

• Denial of new voucher for families that want to move or transfer their voucher to the Delaware State Housing Authority.

• Denial of residents requests to review facts and preponderance of evidence that DHA relies on for eviction proceedings.

• Unfair/inconsistent administration practices in the voucher extensions process.

• Illegal forging of DHA participant’s name on documents filed by DHA as evidence for eviction proceedings.

DHA responds

According to executive director Ami Sebastian-Hauer, DHA addressed each complaint on June 24. The authority sent the response to council members Mr. Sudler, Neil Mr. and Scott Cole, Mayor Robin Christiansen and other city representatives.

“Without going into specifics or names, the complaints ranged from applicants not meeting HCV eligibility criteria, voucher holder unable to find suitable housing even after receiving multiple extensions, residents who violated the Dwelling Rental Lease, etc.,” Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said.
“All decisions and/or actions taken by DHA were supported by documentation and our policies.”

Plan of action

According to Mr. Sudler, no DHA representative “has contacted me and or the mayor with a plan of action or remedy for investigating and curing the nature of DHA-resident’s (Program Participants) complaints regarding alleged violations of landlord/tenant code for the State of Delaware by Dover Housing Authority director/assistant director and staff.”

The councilman continued, adding, “I personally feel paralyzed and worried about the duress that the DHA residents are experiencing and hope that relief for them comes swiftly.

“At this point, I have a vote of no confidence in the DHA board of commissioners.”

Pointing to the 600 residents served by DHA and a waiting list of about 1,000 applicants, Ms. Sebastian-Hauer opined that “we feel the nine complaints received by the city is a very small percentage given the large community we serve and is an indication that, for the most part, DHA is doing a good job ensuring our families are living in safe, decent, sanitary homes.

“We try to ensure the residents’ quality of life is one that encourages them to then be good providers and role models for their families.”

Mr. Sudler said he remains concerned.

“I’m very disappointed in the fact that it appears the residents’ rights are being violated and the landlord-tenant code appears to mean nothing to the DHA.

“People are living in fear and you’re dealing with senior citizens, handicapped and low-income persons who already have issues.”

Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said she believes the DHA is 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 update memos,” she said.

Housing under scrutiny

After hearing from residents in his district, Mr. Neil believes the scrutiny of DHA is warranted.

“I suspect that the administration has been there so long without meaningful oversight, that the administrator believes anything goes,” he said. “Her word is absolute.”

Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said she’s handled a multitude of responsibilities in 23 years with the DHA and “the (18-member) staff is doing what I used to do” when it comes to addressing specific concerns of individual residents.

She stressed a commitment to being available to individual residents whenever possible, which is limited due to managerial responsibilities.

“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,” Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said.

Noting that the DHA is not a city agency, Mr. Neil said, “This unit is just located in Dover and we have only a limited say in the operation.”
Describing residents as “in a very hard place,” Mr. Neil added, there is great fear of people losing their apartments.

“The DHA is in the hands of individuals, many entrenched, who may have forgotten their roles in adjudicating those issues. …

According to Ms. Sebastian-Hauer, “DHA has a very professional staff that receives training on housing issues on a weekly basis.

“When dealing with residents and their issues, we ensure we refer to the proper federal regulation and/or policy so we are making fair decisions, recognizing that our decisions, while they may not always be favorable to the resident, will have an effect on that resident’s life and household.”

When interacting with the DHA, consequences for residents are immense, Mr. Neil said.

“As an elected official, the voters decide our fate, but for a person desperately in need of housing, they will endure a lot before they complain for fear of losing their domicile,” he said.

“Without oversight, they endure because they have no vote to change things.”

Ms. Sebastian-Hauer maintains that “We do respond to grievances and with some who are not happy with the result they see that as non-responsive.

“I feel we have a good relationship with (the community we serve.) While there are issues we have to address, we do so to the best of our ability to insure the quality of life is strong.”

Policies, regulations change

Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said changes in HUD’s policies and regulations effective on April 7 were sent to all residents, with a notice of proposed changes published in the media and public hearing scheduled, which she said no residents attended.

“We met with our Resident Advisory Board, and finally the changes were reviewed and approved by the DHA Board of Commissioners,” she said.

“I am currently in the process of updating DHA’s Public Housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Admin Plans.”

Describing the DHA’s record as “excellent,” Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said “HUD has said the same thing.”

After a July 22 DHA board retreat, “the board voted to update our by-laws and other policies, in particular, the policy on DHA’s grievance/informal hearing policies for all DHA residents,” Ms. Sebastian-Hauer said.

“The revised grievance policy created a hearing panel comprised of board members, residents, and an invited member of the city council. This latest revision is still being put together.”

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