NEW HAVEN CT Jan 13 2018 — As federal support continues to drop, the Housing Authority of New Haven is ending its outside security firm and will depend on a tenant at the front desk to screen visitors and police to respond to any problems.
The authority is looking at how every dollar is spent and felt its $1 million contract for security guards was not sustainable given its other needs as budgets tighten.
“We have been spending a lot of money on a security company with mixed results and mixed reviews,” Karen DuBois-Walton, executive director of the authority, said in a recent interview.
The authority will continue to pay residents a small stipend to manage the front desk, where non-tenants will be required to sign in and out of a building.
“We are trying to beef that up,” DuBois-Walton said, and cover more shifts after a review of the people now in those positions.
She said they are needed more after 6 p.m. than during the day when management personnel are in and out of the building. They do not patrol the buildings as the security guards did.
“They can take reports or call for assistance if they need to,” she said.
The authority is looking to put in cameras, better lighting and fences to enhance security and now has 11 police officers living in Housing Authority units.
In exchange for free rent, the officers patrol the building, talk to the residents, attend community events and generally are contacts for tenants.
DuBois-Walton said the first line of defense “is just residents in general.”
“When you are coming in, do you let someone come in behind you? Do you buzz the door open for people you don’t know? Do you prop the door open because it is easier for you to come in and out the back doorway?” the executive director said.
She said the second line is to make visitors sign in and out and show an ID so they can track who is in the building.
“We need our residents to partner with us and alert us to things that they see to keep our buildings safe,” the executive director said.
She said change is difficult and some people who “felt reassured seeing someone in a uniform” at the entrance desk may be concerned about the new policy, which goes into effect Feb. 1.
She said given the fiscal reality, it is a compromise they had to make.
“We are watching what is happpening with congresional funding. There is no relief coming that we can see,” DuBois-Walton said.
Currently, some buildings have uniformed guards around the clock, while others may be limited to an overnight shift. She said, for the most part, they sit at a desk and do the same things as a tenant hired for the job.
As for the guards, she said it was “hit or miss. Sometimes you get an excellent security guard, who works well with the population. Sometimes you don’t. These are not the highest paid jobs,” she said.
DeBois-Walton said “the reality is if you visit most apartment buildings in this city, or in most places, you don’t find uniformed security guards.”
The executive director said the security of the residents “is our foremost concern. We pay close attention to that,” and will adjust the security policy, if needed, she said.
“We will look at it case by case. Where it makes sense to do something, of course we will revisit it,” she said.
The authority didn’t always contract for security, but did it for a period of time, “while we could afford it,” DuBois-Walton said.
Asked whether any security has been hired to patrol outside, DuBois-Walton said: “Yes, they are called New Haven police. There are like 400 of them.”
She said they patrol every neighborhood in the city and the authority works closely with them, particularly the district managers.
Ending the security contract is part of a restructuring the authority recently kicked off that also includes laying off some 50 housing specialists and maintence personnel, as well as some managers.
The authority is also turning over management and maintenance to a new affiliate, 360 Property Management Inc., for 1,300 of its apartments. This group will then post jobs for 40 to 45 similar positions, for which laid-off staff can apply.
Under Rental Assistance Demonstration, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program, the authority will also switch its properties to private-public partnerships against which it can borrow money to invest in capital upgrades.
She said they can no longer solely depend on federal funds, while it was equally important “to tighten our belts.”