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November 22, 2014

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HOUSING:

E-mail reveals hesitancy to move at-risk tenants

Image

Steve Marcus

The rundown Casa Rosa apartment complex in North Las Vegas is seen from the North Las Vegas Housing Authority offices on Yale Street.

The shabby apartments at Casa Rosa in North Las Vegas sit right across the street from North Las Vegas Housing Authority Chief Executive Don England’s office, but they may as well be on another planet.

At least that’s how it seems in a series of e-mail messages between England and Carl Rowe, his counterpart at Las Vegas Housing Authority. That correspondence, as well as e-mails involving staff at both agencies, shows the man in charge of the North Las Vegas Housing Authority avoiding and delaying any concrete, timely response to dangerous conditions facing public housing tenants at Casa Rosa, despite repeated attempts to impress upon him the matter’s urgency.

Rowe said he thought England was “minimizing the situation. We didn’t feel the sense of urgency.”

England’s answer: “I’m not going to get into a name-calling contest. I’m trying to resolve this as amicably and expeditiously as possible.”

The e-mail exchange began Oct. 8, when Las Vegas Housing Authority staff started an apartment-by-apartment inspection of Casa Rosa, part of their duties under an agreement initiated in July. Under the arrangement — struck after the federal Housing and Urban Development Department designated the North Las Vegas agency as “troubled” based on problems with money and programs — Las Vegas manages North Las Vegas’ public housing.

The e-mail exchange offers a glimpse at the differences between the approaches of the two agencies’ directors.

On Oct. 29, after receiving notice from the North Las Vegas Public Works Department that tenants in 21 units needed to be moved out because second-story staircases were in danger of collapsing, England wrote to Rowe: “You got what you wanted. Now we have 60 days to comply!”

Rowe responded the same day: “Well, we certainly were deluding ourselves, thinking that the property could be ... an acceptable place for people to live, so this was the thing that needed to happen.”

Rowe outlines the process to follow if North Las Vegas wants Las Vegas to help solve the problems discovered at Casa Rosa, including formally changing the terms of the relationship between the two agencies. Rowe’s agency was only supposed to manage the housing, not relocate tenants or demolish apartments.

He ends by asking England, “Please let me know what you want to do.”

On Oct. 31, Kenny Young, assistant city manager for North Las Vegas, urged England to do the same.

“If you don’t want to be involved then we will work with Carl and his staff directly,” he wrote. “If things aren’t done in a timely manner then it’s on YOU.”

On Nov. 3, England wrote to Rowe and others: “When is the earliest I can have a plan and budget for addressing the Casa Rosa situation?”

On Nov. 8, he asked Zelda Ellis, a Rowe employee: “What arrangements have been made and when can we start relocating the residents?”

Ellis wrote to her boss later the same day: “Did I miss something? I do not remember Don telling us he wants us to handle this.”

Rowe agreed, given his Nov. 10 reply, copied to a number of officials in both cities:

“I’m not sure what prompted your e-mail but as your counsel knows, the City of North Las Vegas staff knows, my staff knows, and, most of all, you know, you have issued no request for our services beyond our existing agreement. At best, this looks like a disingenuous attempt to transfer responsibility that is and has been yours, alone, to someone else.”

“I am absolutely loath to deal with someone who is as blatantly interested in ducking responsibility as you are. If it weren’t for the residents that need some relief from your failed stewardship,” Rowe continued, “it would not bother me at all to leave you ‘high and dry’ to take care of this fiasco yourself.”

“If I am incorrect,” he concluded, “and you simply are confused, I’ll be happy to discuss this with you but, either way, you ... need to do something.”

This back and forth continued for several more days. England indicated on Nov. 12 that repairs being made by Rowe’s agency might require him to do another inspection “so we might have a more accurate count as to the number of families needing to be relocated, if any.”

By this time, the deadline to move tenants out had been extended to Nov. 26.

Rowe responded that daily repairs do nothing to correct the underlying problems, which include the presence of asbestos and subfloors close to collapsing.

“It is both irresponsible and dangerous to think, because we have taken care of a certain number of leaks, that somehow the overall problem is not serious,” he concluded.

Finally, on Thursday and Friday, England formally indicated that he wanted Las Vegas Housing Authority help in relocating tenants and to request permission from the federal government to demolish all 101 apartments at Casa Rosa.

On Nov. 3, Rowe’s staff prepared a report estimating that the relocation and demolition will cost $1.89 million.

Rowe’s take on the e-mail exchange is that too much time has been lost to what he calls “bureaucratic B.S.” while people are in danger. He added that the underlying problems at Casa Rosa “did not come up just now.”

But England, who has directed the North Las Vegas agency since 1999, said previous inspections have never turned up problems on the scale of the recent ones, and that he has been moving from day one to find a solution.

“We’re both heading in the same direction and working together to find a solution.”

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