Friday, July 16, 2021

Residents Complain About Conditions at Nazareth's Oliver Border House

Nazareth's Oliver C Border House is a four story building with 75 1-BR apartments for persons who are over 62 yo or who are disabled. It's in a quiet corner of a quiet borough, just a stone's throw from Holy Family Church. There's a bus stop right outside the door. There's even a cemetery right across the street so that when the end comes, you don't have far to go. A group of tenants, however, is upset with conditions at the home, and took its complaints to Northampton County Council last night. But there's a problem. This home is operated by the Lehigh County Housing Authority, not the Northampton County Housing Authority or even Northampton County.

Kathy Riffert was the first resident to take the podium. She started by thanking Council member Tara Zrinski, who visited and inspected the building a few weeks ago at the request of residents. She asked the county to consider regaining control of the home. 

Riffert asked about Valley Housing Development Corp., which apparently runs the facility. She indicated this firm might manage 31 buildings, and asked where Northampton County's money is going. She indicated that when she first moved there, the tenants were mostly elderly. Now it is a "mixture of nursing home, mental hospital and a group home for mentally challenged people." She also observed that police "are here three or four times a week for frivolous tenant calls." 

Joanne Messinger, who lives on Seip Street but visits the Border House regularly, followed Riffert. "The office is not worth the room they take up," she complained. She was concerned specifically by how the office is treating one of the tenants, who is barred from visiting any floor except the one on which she lives. "Something's got to be done about that place, it's gone downhill." 

Tenant Trudy Davis was the next speaker. She and her late husband first moved there in October 2012.  She was once  proud to say where she lived. "Now, things have changed. There's no longer pride in the old dirty red building on the top of the hill. I heard that description many times while riding the bus back and forth to the Palmer Mall."  She listed numerous deficiencies, from red walls turned black by mold to cracked entry steps. The Border House, "once the 'Cadillac' of HUD buildings, is now a building in desperate need of repairs." 

Resident Carol Kostolanci was the next to take the podium. Her complaint is that "management has opened the building to people who are not only a danger to themselves, but to every other tenant. They wander the halls in various states of undress, some are self abusive." She indicated they linger outside the apartments of other tenants or just lie on the floor.  She added that management locks its doors, closes its blinds and is unresponsive. 

Barbara Tinker, an 82 yo resident, said she's seen several changes in management, and the present operators are the worst. She also complained about the habit of locking the door and pulling down the shades. "That gesture alone makes us feel inferior, almost as if we are the enemy. In many ways we are treated like lower class citizens."

Batting clean-up was 91 yo Joyce Rice. "I'm the grandmother of the group," she joked. She said that when she first moved into the Border House in 2011, the office was wonderful. But she slammed the current management for the way it treats the first floor tenant who pretty much is banned from everywhere else in the building,  

Executive Lamont McClure pretty much agreed with these complaints. "It's time to take our housing authority back, folks. It was a mistake to vote to give it to Lehigh County."

McClure was a member of Council when it voted to cede control of the Border House to Lehigh County Housing Authority, and was the sole member to vote No. 

While McClure claimed that Northampton and Lehigh County work well together, he said the bi-county arrangements have been a failure. He indicated he is currently working on a plan to regain control of the housing authority in Northampton County. "We're going to have a housing authority again in Northampton County." 

He indicate that Valley Housing  should be invited to a Council Committee meeting to address resident concerns. But he cautioned that people with disabilities must be permitted to reside at Oliver Border House. 

Council member Ron Heckman, who chairs the Human Services Committee, said he'd invite management to his next meeting. 

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why is Zirinski in charge of this. Where is Hwfner. Isn't she the president of council. She tells everyone she is in charge. She should be in charge of this

Anonymous said...

Very important entry here Bernie. So many residents that live in these housing facilities across the valley are afraid to comment for fear of being evicted. Please keep up on this. You truly are their voice.

Anonymous said...

From what I know of Valley Housing Development Corporation, it is managed and staffed by good people who try to do the right thing in what are often very difficult demographic and social circumstances It is fairly obvious what is of concern to some of the residents of this property. Placing control of this building under a Northampton County run agency will make no difference unless that agency adopts admissions and tenant policies that please more of the senior residents but perhaps violate Federal and other Fair Housing policies. It is very easy to proclaim that every human being deserves decent and safe housing options in a community setting but it is far more difficult to create real physical locations to do that without offending some who are uncomfortable with the resulting residential diversity. I would prefer realistic suggestions from Northampton County elected officials on how to actually solve these difficult issues rather than pretending that this is simply some sort of jurisdictional issue that relates to county boundaries or political control.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" Please keep up on this. You truly are their voice."

I simply am reporting on what was said at a meeting.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It is very easy to proclaim that every human being deserves decent and safe housing options in a community setting but it is far more difficult to create real physical locations to do that without offending some who are uncomfortable with the resulting residential diversity. "

You apparently read only what you wanted to read. It is certainly true that there should be no discrimination in housing against the disabled, including the mentally disabled. But that is only part of what prompted residents to visit Council. It appears they are also concerned about the physical condition of the building as well as a unresponsive and vindictive property manager. So there are basically three complaints: 1) dangerous tenants; 2) deteriorating building; and 3) unresponsive management.

I should caution that only residents and one of their neighbors spoke. Council did not hear from Valley Housing. As we all know, there are usually several sides to any story.

You want County Council to solve these issues and complain they offered no suggestions, noting the issue extends beyond boundaries or political control. I disagree. The county can do nothing until and unless it regains control. It certainly has no intention of discriminating against the disabled. But it can insure the building is maintained and managed well.

Anonymous said...

If Gracedale is any indication of county control, good luck. Watch for what you ask. You just may get it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Why is Zirinski in charge of this. "

Zrinski is a member of County Council who responded to residents who had a complaint. She visited with them. listened to their concerns and actually reported back to Council two weeks ago. In other words, she did her job.

No one has been more critical of her than I, but I would never slam her for doing her job.

This is not to say the residents are 100% right. Obviously, the property manager should be heard. But these residents deserved to be heard, and were.


Anonymous said...

I live in one of these buildings managed by this company, but not in Nazareth. It doesn't matter, because I've lived in fear with my 2 Negative demerits, which take a year from filed date to take off. This is truly a 3 strikes and you're out. My violations were dusty window sills because my windows were open in the summer (A/C is extra),and a dirty oven. Thank the pandemic for lack of 90 day inspections till now. It gave me time to save for AC and buy a couple cans of Easy Off.

Anonymous said...

Wake up people this is not a goddamn nursing home it’s where we live people don’t understand shit

Anonymous said...

I believe that the Northampton County Housing Authority still exits and still owns the Border building. According to the NCHA website, the NCHA Board is composed all of competent people well versed in housing issues and all Board members are different people than those individuals on the Lehigh County Housing Authority Board. In fact the Vice Chair of the NCHA Board is listed as Becky Bartlett,the NC Deputy Director of Administration. Apparently some years ago NCHA entered into to an agreement with Valley Housing Development Corporation (VHDC)to provide management and operational services to NCHA. The executive staff of VHDC apparently is shared by both county Boards. Border House residents certainly have a right to complain about bad physical conditions in the building and unresponsive management. If those allegations are true, Bartlett and the NCHA Board should be able to do something to correct those issues through whatever management and operational contract is in place with VHDC. They certainly can try to do that more quickly than any complete organizational restructuring could be completed.

LVCI said...

Why not separate floors for the elderly capable of living entirely on their own from those who are disabled mentally or otherwise in some way? In this way each floor could accommodate the needs which would best suit them.

Kathy Riffert said...

She was called be cause she is council women for our district

Kathy Riffert said...

Good people? Maybe you should read the comments
How we are.trested with disrespect and talked to like we agreed in kindergarten

Kathy Riffert said...

Thank you

Bernie O'Hare said...

2:33, yes NCHA exists, but it has surrendered control to Lehigh.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVCI, your comment makes sense but perhaps segregation would be considered discrimination.

Anonymous said...

2:33 is spot on. The authorities were not merged and NCHA is still a separate entity that has the power to terminate or not renew the agreement with VHDC. A resolution of approval passed years ago by Council is not binding and a red herring. The only power Council has is to confirm board members of the authority appointed by Mr. McClure. The residents should be attending and speaking out at NCHA meetings. By now a majority of the members should be made up of McClure appointees and one is his Deputy Director.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You and 2:33 are spot off. What's more, the residents of OBH know you're wrong, so your attempted disinformation is misplaced. Many of them were living there when NCHA ceded control to LCHA. NorCo can get it back with advance notice, but that requires approval from very slow moving HUD.

Anonymous said...

Bernie

This is what I so poorly was trying to convey.

"Anonymous said...
I live in one of these buildings managed by this company, but not in Nazareth. It doesn't matter, because I've lived in fear with my 2 Negative demerits, which take a year from filed date to take off. This is truly a 3 strikes and you're out. My violations were dusty window sills because my windows were open in the summer (A/C is extra),and a dirty oven. Thank the pandemic for lack of 90 day inspections till now. It gave me time to save for AC and buy a couple cans of Easy Off.

July 16, 2021 at 1:58 PM"

Residents live in fear. Also "the LIST" where applicants wait and wait hoping their name will be called.

Unknown said...

Great idea!

Anonymous said...

Companies do this because they realize there is minimal oversight. Track the numbers and look at what is given to them not only by the county and numerous other grants perks, etc. They know that they can skim money for years and then just before it all falls apart they walk away or the management team takes their money and runs. Many times as you dig into these politicians or politicians family members or politicians friends have their fingers int he pot of skimmed money. When you run one of these your and your company should be 100% open for a full audit. And anyone caught skimming the system should be mandatorily sentenced to 2 hours of incarceration's in a jail cell for every dollar they took. And if that sam dollar was skimmed by one passed through a second to pay off a theirs (perhaps a politician) all three of those should receive the same fate.

To make this fun and fair they should be required to open the books and allow people to review them. And at the same time if an individual finds some of this skimming they should get paid a bounty.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:
Anonymous said...
Companies do this because they realize there is minimal oversight. Track the numbers and look at what is given to them not only by the county and numerous other grants perks, etc. They know that they can skim money for years and then just before it all falls apart they walk away or the management team takes their money and runs. Many times as you dig into these politicians or politicians family members or politicians friends have their fingers int he pot of skimmed money. When you run one of these your and your company should be 100% open for a full audit. And anyone caught skimming the system should be mandatorily sentenced to 2 hours of incarceration's in a jail cell for every dollar they took. And if that sam dollar was skimmed by one passed through a second to pay off a theirs (perhaps a politician) all three of those should receive the same fate.

To make this fun and fair they should be required to open the books and allow people to review them. And at the same time if an individual finds some of this skimming they should get paid a bounty.

July 17, 2021 at 6:06 PM

Here's a suggestion: Before prospective board members of either LVHA or VYH agree to serve, each candidate be required to spend a night at a respective facility and file a online
report of their findings and resident interviews, keeping the identity of the respective resident confidential, of course.

Anonymous said...

While McClure claimed that Northampton and Lehigh County work well together, he said the bi-county arrangements have been a failure

This is pretty honest for McClure to admit. Hope the residents keep attending council meetings so their concerns are addressed.

Anonymous said...

What's still puzzling is don't most of these properties receive HUD dollars. When was the last time HUD inspected these buildings or spoke with tenants?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
What's still puzzling is don't most of these properties receive HUD dollars. When was the last time HUD inspected these buildings or spoke with tenants?

July 19, 2021 at 10:42 AM

Isn't this a question Ron Heckman should research?