OCEAN CITY — A months-long standoff between the city and Housing Authority over repayment of $1.2 million used to repair 60 low-income units damaged by Hurricane Sandy became more contentious Tuesday, as the authority, chaired by the mayor’s lone political challenger, rejected a motion to refund the city.
Hope for a resolution rests on a scheduled 11 a.m. Friday meeting with HUD representatives in Newark.
“Personal,” “adversarial” and “political” are some of the words being used to describe the situation between the Housing Authority, chaired by Ed Price, and the city, led by Mayor Jay Gillian, as the two bodies strive to reach what both say is a common goal: Repaying the city for restoration work done at Peck’s Beach Village in late 2012 and early 2013.
“It’s definitely become political,” Price said in a phone conversation Monday, admitting he was “nervous about the scope of this thing with me running against Jay.”
The city’s nonpartisan election is May 13, with Gillian running for a second term and Price, who lost a bid for the 4th Ward council seat by 36 votes in 2012, making his first run at the mayor’s office.
But City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson, speaking on behalf of Gillian, disagreed. “He doesn’t see this as a political issue,” she said. “He just wants to work with the Housing Authority.”
Audience members disapproved of the combative tone of Tuesday’s Housing Authority meeting, in which some board members zinged pointed insults at one another before voting down the proposal.
“We’re not Atlantic City, no disrespect. We’re not Pleasantville. We’re not Newark. We’re not Trenton,” said Antwan McClellan, the 2nd Ward councilman whose constituency includes the 50-year-old Peck’s Beach Village, which is located on the north and south sides of the 200 block of Fourth Street. “We’re Ocean City. We’re one family. We need to act like one family. Let’s be respectful. Let’s get this resolved.”
“I’m disheartened to hear what has happened here tonight,” said the Rev. Gregory Johnson, taking the board to task for acting in such a spiteful fashion. “I’m real sad and real disappointed with the commissioners tonight that you had to debate taking care of the city when the city has stood by you. In all fairness, you have to do better. This is poor leadership.”
Earlier on Tuesday, standing in the front yard of a neighbor’s unit, Jessica Vega, a 10-year resident of Peck’s Beach Village, questioned the reason for the authority’s delay in reimbursing the city.
“Why don’t they (the Housing Authority) pay them (the city) the money when they (the city) were nice enough to get us back in?” the 30-year-old mother of three asked. “Where the heck would we have all gone with summer coming and the hotels kicking us out? I appreciate what the city did.”
At stake, Price said, is whether HUD will accept the repair work the city authorized, which included the installation of hot water heaters and gas furnaces that do not meet HUD energy requirements. Price said the authority wants assurance that HUD will not at some future point cut its energy subsidy to the authority because the appliances marginally fail to meet HUD’s energy star rating requirements. The installed hot water heaters, for example, have a 0.59 energy rating as opposed to HUD’s required 0.67 or greater.
“Our job as the board is to protect the residents,” Price said Tuesday night at the meeting. “Our job is not to protect the city. If the city agrees the Housing Authority will not be held liable for monies for the heaters or any of the work, if the city says it will indemnify us, I’ll write the check tonight.”
The Housing Authority intends to use proceeds from flood insurance and FEMA money to repay the city. The city used COAH funds to pay the 16 contractors it procured for the restoration of Peck’s Beach Village, with the largest no-bid contract being awarded to Broadley’s Mechanical of Marmora for HVAC and plumbing in the amount of $321,000.
Owner Brian Broadley was unable to return a request for comment by deadline, but McCrosson, the city solicitor, and Johnson, a former Peck’s Beach Village resident whose children still live in the project, both said meeting HUD’s minimums would have meant upgrading and would have required retrofitting.
The appliances installed during the restoration were chosen because they could replace what was formerly in the units, McCrosson said, and the contractor was chosen because he could, through his business connections, obtain 60 sets of appliances, something she said the city purchasing agent had been unable to accomplish despite trying.
“The appliances now are more efficient than what was there before,” McCrosson said. “Why would HUD punish people for that?”
Both sides also differ on the delays in payment.
“They say they’re going to review the bills,” McCrosson said Tuesday afternoon, referring to the Housing Authority. “That’s not what they’re doing. They’re dissecting the bills.”
But Price said the city responded to the Housing Authority’s request for documentation in November 2013 with a boxful of paperwork that took some time to organize. Vice Chairman Stephen Lalli, a construction expert with 35 years experience in the industry, was then charged with analyzing it; his analysis is contained in a 57-page report titled “Review of the Peck’s Beach Village Hurricane Sandy Restoration.”
Lalli, who participated in Tuesday night’s meeting by phone, said of his report, “What I tried to accomplish was to put everything I could find in there. I’d be very surprised if HUD doesn’t come back and say we’ve got some issues.”
Since the time the rebuilding process started, McCrosson said, the executive director, the chairman and the solicitor at the Housing Authority have been replaced, and with that change in personnel, the dynamic between the Housing Authority and the city was altered.
“They seem to have changed their attitude about the project,” McCrosson said. “They seem to have changed their cooperation about the project. It almost seems adversarial.”
She said she is puzzled not just by the delay in repayment, but by the lack of any kind of payment from the authority.
“They say they want to pay the bills, but that’s not what’s happening,” she said. “They claim to have more than million dollars in insurance money and FEMA money. Are there no bills they approve? Over $1 million in bills, and there is nothing they approve?”
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