GENEVA — Any day now, Geneva Housing Authority officials expect to receive findings of an internal investigation into complaints filed against an employee by a trio of Section 8 housing voucher recipients.
The authority’s in-house attorney, Marty Eades, is conducting the investigation, but GHA Executive Director Andy Tyman said federal Housing and Urban Development and GHA policies and other guidelines will prevent him from making the report public, including the name of the employee.
The Finger Lakes Times has learned the identity of the employee but is not reporting it because the matter is still being investigated. The Times asked the employee for comment. She did not respond.
Eades’ review includes, but is not limited to, interviewing the complainants, other Section 8 participants, landlords and administrative staff.
“The attorney’s internal finding of fact report will be issued to me very soon,” Tyman said. “From there, if necessary, the CEO will follow the GHA’s personnel policy, terms within the Geneva Housing Authority’s employees association employment agreement, employment and Civil Service laws, HUD regulations and New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal’s administrative plan to take appropriate action.”
Tyman said a public statement will be released that will include the general terms that the GHA took but will not include anything that is protected by law or regulations.
“The finding of fact report and the details of the GHA actions will only be released to the appropriate governmental agencies as required by law and regulations,” Tyman said.
In November, GHA tenants Melinda Robinson, Breonna Spann and Shaquala Johnson filed formal complaints against the employee. Robinson said there are others with similar stories who won’t come forward because they don’t feel anything will change.
Robinson questioned why the GHA “continues to employ and allow a person who openly shows disdain and discriminates against minorities.” She said the employee “has been allowed to abuse her position without reprimand. She has to be stopped and I won’t stop until she is,” promising she will initiate a protest of the employee’s actions.
On Nov. 18, Robinson wrote Tyman and others to ask “if it is common practice for the Section 8 workers to initiate telephone conversations with the landlords of Section 8 voucher recipients to suggest they not rent to recipients, inquire about eviction proceedings or give landlords information regarding a recipient’s income?
“Also, if a recipient is receiving public assistance cash, if that is considered income and added to the voucher recipient’s household income or not.”
Tyman replied the next day, telling Robinson that GHA staffers are not allowed to give out information, good or bad referrals, or references to a landlord. Tyman said Eades would investigate her concerns, but because he is not a full-time counsel, combined with other complaints being made, the investigation could take longer than anticipated.
On Jan. 18, Robinson wrote to the employee. She told her that the way she was treated “was racist and unprofessional.”
“You used your position at the GHA to demean me, you manipulated my income to try and cause me to lose my Section 8 voucher, you called my former landlord to try and get me evicted, you spoke in a condescending tone during my appointments with you, you rolled your eyes at my questions, you ignored my requests for programs to help me purchase my own home, you made racial comments during my appointments and thought that I was too ignorant to catch on,” she wrote.
“I thought that reporting you to your supervisor and to Andy Tyman would stop you from treating people the way you do, but it seems that it has just emboldened you.”
She called it “sad” that the GHA allows it and ends with a hope that she will be exposed and “justice is finally served.”
Spann said she has been in the Section 8 housing voucher program for about nine years, saying she needs help as a single parent.
In a Nov. 13 letter to Tyman, she said the “downside” of her issue has been working with her caseworker. She said her caseworker “has not made it comfortable for me to confide in her about certain situations that have concerned me.”
“I feel I am being treated poorly. When I would greet (the caseworker) her attitude would be condescending, especially when asking questions that I did not understand or even when I had proof of errors that she has made on my paperwork. She would be extremely annoyed, slamming paperwork on the desk, rolling her eyes and making intentional annoyed facial expressions, body language that would make me feel uncomfortable. I felt belittled by how she would talk to me.”
Spann added: “Three years ago, I requested a new caseworker, but was told my complaints did not fit the requirements for a new caseworker.”
Spann said she once inquired about the GHA’s home ownership program and the caseworker “actually laughed out loud and told me that I needed to save money. She basically discouraged me from pursuing entry into the program with her comments and laughter.”
Spann said she hopes her complaint would not cause her to lose her Section 8 voucher or have to endure more hostility from her caseworker.
“All I’m asking for is assistance with the home ownership program and to be treated with respect,” she said.
Tyman wrote back the same day, assuring her she does not risk loss of her Section 8 assistance as retaliation. He told her that Eades would review the matter and arrange a meeting with her as part of his review. Tyman also told Spann to contact him any time about the matter.
On Nov. 16, Johnson wrote Tyman, Eades, HUD officials and others, saying she applied for the Section 8 program in February 2019. A single mother of three, she said she was “in desperate need of housing assistance because I could not afford my living space and I was fighting for joint custody of my fourth child.”
“At the time of my application, I was going back and forth from New York to Georgia because I had no place for the four of us to reside,” she wrote.
Johnson said she was approved for a Section 8 voucher from the GHA in March 2020 and told her employee she wanted her voucher to be used in Georgia.
“She declined because she knew I was not living in New York for a year straight,” Johnson wrote. “She stated all I had to do was move to New York for a year and I could transfer my assistance in a year.”
In April 2020, Johnson said she found an apartment in Geneva but did not get approval until May 4.
“So in the middle of COVID, I could not move right away,” she said. “Once I came up with the money around May 28, I relocated to Geneva but could not live in the apartment because at the time we had no furniture,” Johnson wrote. “About two weeks later, I received a letter for another appointment with Section 8 and was charged with grand larceny for not living in my apartment in the month of May.”
Johnson said her Section 8 payments were stopped in July without warning or notice.
“All of this in the middle of the pandemic and to a single mother with three kids,” she said. “When I tried to reach out to her, she refused to answer the phone or answer any of my questions. She was very rude and judgemental.
“I have never been disrespectful to her. I only wanted to understand why I was being cut off from my service. She wouldn’t even pick up my phone calls or return them when other employees have verified she was available. It is now November and I am basically struggling with three kids, not being able to pay my rent, (two months behind) and would most likely be homeless if it wasn’t for the COVID restrictions. I still have not heard anything from Section 8 and haven’t heard anything from the court. I was basically kicked off Section 8 for no reason.”
Johnson said she went public with her complaint because she doesn’t want anyone else to go through the “hurt, struggle and humiliation” that the caseworker put her through.
“I have even lost my Family Court case because of this,” she said. “This has been the worst experience I have been through. The very people that are supposed to try and help you are doing nothing more than destroying lives.”
Eades responded to Johnson Nov. 19, telling her that Tyman had asked Eades and Hillary Iannopollo, the GHA occupancy administrator, to meet with her to obtain information to provide Tyman as Eades completes his review of the ongoing complaints. He suggested a meeting on Dec. 3 at GHA’s Lewis Street offices.
Tyman referred the complaints to Eades in December to be investigated.