Apartments Renovated: Tenants Evicted

By Farr Carey

MAHT VISTA Coordinator

          After over a year of struggle to win money for repairs for her building.  Thelma Hairston and her two children face the threat of eviction from their two-bedroom apartment at Milliken Apartments.

            In early September, Hairston received a notice from the court awarding “possession” and $142 to the Milliken Apartment Management Company despite her success in winning $1.1 million dollars in repairs for the building.

            The eviction action was started by the National Housing (NHP), the nation’s largest owner of HUD subsidized housing, with 85,000 units.  NHP has since “sold” the building to Milliken Affordable Housing, Ins., A NHP spin off created to take advantage of federal Title VI grants for sales.  Boston’s HUD office refused to process the sale at first, because the purchaser was a “sham non profit” but their decision was overruled by HUD’s Washington Office.

            “This is probably the most outrageous case of tenant harassment I’ve seen in 25 years.  The nation’s largest subsidized landlord is evicting a low-income mother who just won them a million dollars for repairs.  They should give Thelma a medal not an eviction notice!” said Michael Kane, director of Mass. Alliance HUD Tenants (MAHT).

            Hairston joined the Milliken Apartments Tenants Association in the Spring of 1996, when the MAHT got involved.  Milliken Apartments was for sale under the Title VI Preservation Program, and tenants were in a position to make some changes in the building.  Many were concerned about the physical condition of the building: water seeps into the apartments every time it rains, soaking tile and carpeting.  Tenants chose Hairston as the president of the tenant association to hold the owner accountable for repairs.

            Over the next year, Hairston worked closely with the tenant steering committee and MAHT to develop some solution.  U.S. Representative Barney Frank became actively involved, writing letters to HUD and funding agencies.  AT first MHP and their sham purchasers refused to meet with residents.  Meanwhile, the Mass Alliance of HUD tenants obtained a grant for the tenant association, which was used to hire architects to assess needed repairs.  Last summer, tenants got HUD and Congressman Barney Frank to bring the purchaser to the table.

            The tenants eventually secured $1.1 million additional dollars for repairs in the building.  This is the only known case in the country where HUD actually increased the Title VI grant amount over the amount originally approved.

            Hairston has played a vocal role in the leadership of tenant group by raising security issues, criticizing the management practices, and expressing concern about the condition of the building.  But the real trouble began in June 1997.  The Tenants’ Association demanded that in June 1997.  The Tenants’ Association demanded that HUD cut over $1 million in Title VI grant funds scheduled for windfall profits for the “seller” and to invest the funds on needed repairs instead.  In an article published in the Herald News.  Hairston was singled out and openly criticized by then Milliken site manager Ellen Fisher.

            Soon afterward, Hairston received a “Thirty Day Notice to Quit.”  Management alleged that she had failed to pay the correct amount of rent for a period of three months and that she ha misreported her income.  But Hairston’s rent is paid directly to the management office by the state. 

            The record shows that management error led to a $142 underpayment by the state.  Instead of settling the matter with Hairston, management hauled her into court.

            In August, Hairston appeared in court twice without legal counsel as she couldn’t afford a lawyer.  She agreed o ay the disputed $142 to settle the matter.  Management refused to accept the money and said they just wanted her off the premises.  Despite the evidence presented, and Hairston’s willingness to comply, the judge ruled in favor of the management, and Hairston was issued a court order in min September.

            Very few tenants in the building were aware of the severity of the situation until a tenant association meeting in September.  Management showed up uninvited and tried to announce that they were responsible for the recent funding successes.  When Hairston asked them to explain the meaning of the court order, they told her she had to be out of the apartment by the next day.

            The tenants present at the meeting were outraged.  Mary E. Conforti, a former president of the Milliken Tenants association and 24-year resident of the building was shocked at the actions taken against Hairston.  “She worked so hard for the building to get the money for repairs and no one can understand why they are evicting her.”

            “There are many people who have broken house rules and creating problems who should have been evicted but are still here.  Management is not pushing them out”. added Ed Depin also a former tenant association president and 17 year resident.

            Tenants initiated a petition opposing Hairston’s eviction and demanded an apology to Hairston and the Tenants Association.  Tenants and MAHT staff circulated the petition and secured over 100 signatures. “If the people didn’t think she was a good tenant and doing a good job, they wouldn’t have signed the petition.” Mr. Depin added.

            MAHT staff assisted Hairston in obtaining a lawyer through legal services. The lawyer was able to put a hold on the eviction until a new court date could be scheduled in March.

            In the meantime, MAHT has asked HUD to get involved to punish National Housing Partnership’s “sham” buyer for this obvious case of tenant harassment.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 26  Spring April 1998