Proposed shuttering of Newark housing complex splits residents

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on January 26, 2017

NEWARK -- Long a fixture in the East Ward community, Millard E. Terrell Homes is expected to close its doors, as the agency in charge of public housing says it's too cash-strapped to maintain it. 

The Newark Housing Authority, an autonomous city agency, says it plans to shutter the complex and help its residents transition to new homes. NHA, which receives federal funding, must ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for permission to close and demolish the building. 

"We know that each day that site is getting worse," Keith Kinard, executive director of the Newark Housing Authority told NJ Advance Media. "We don't have the funds to deal with even a fraction of those issues right now. That's a result of many, many years of HUD cuts."

Kinard said it'll cost $64 million to repair Terrell Homes and bring its 275 units up to code. NHA announced plans to close the site last October; the agency will submit its demolition application to HUD by April, he added. 

Terrell Homes residents crowded last week's city council meeting asking council members to support them through the transition and expressing concerns about the closure. Others said they were eager to get out.

"Terrell Homes is not just a building, it's not just concrete, it's my home," said Rosemary Horsely, who moved into the complex when she was 3 years old. "Yes, there's crime -- but there's crime everywhere."

Other residents wore blue shirts that read: "We are ready to move out" and said they were ready to leave, citing problems with mold and disrepair. Terrell Homes was built in the 1940s. 

"I have mold, I have a bathroom sink that is off the wall," said resident Donayle Webb. She said she doesn't feel safe in the building and, after living there for five years, wants to move elsewhere. 

East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador said he would work to make sure residents are taken care of. 

"We need to provide the support for those tenants of Terrell Homes if the decision is finalized and everybody has to move, to make sure everybody is treated with dignity and stays in the East Ward," he said last week.

Felicia Alston-Singleton, a tenant advocate, disagreed with how NHA handled the process and said the agency failed to inform the building's residents of its plan on a timely basis. She added that residents who want to leave can still transfer to another housing development without needing Terrell Homes to close. 

"What happened to the money that was supposed to repair these places?" Alston-Singleton asked. "Those issues did not happen overnight," she said of the crumbling infrastructure. 

Kinard said NHA has lost about $6 million a year in federal funding for the last 12 years.

"This isn't just a Terrell homes issue," he said. "This is an-across-the-country issue. We're dealing with older stock that needed a certain amount of capital preservation over the years."

Kinard estimates demolishing the building could cost between $3.5-5 million but it's not clear what, if anything, will be built on the property once its knocked down. 

"We simply want to make sure the residents are in decent, safe and sanitary conditions," he said.

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