Monday, May 28, 2007

How my housing co-op is following the national trend: Bye-bye Rule of Law!
(The May 2007 edition of a monthly newsletter from me)

More and more we notice that George W. Bush and his cohorts in Washington are breaking laws right and left -- and yet they still expect us average citizens to play fairly and obey all the rules. This is how the Rule of Law starts to break down – first people see their leaders breaking the law and then they start to think it’s okay for them to break laws too. And the next thing you know, civil society starts to break down.

And what is true on the national level is true locally as well.

At Savo Island Cooperative Homes’ last Board meeting, it once again became clear to me that our co-op’s bylaws -- which are applied strictly to mere Savo residents – are not necessarily being applied to Board members and their cronies as well. After years of watching Board members and their friends move family members into units without permission, house whole families of people for long periods of time without putting them on their lease, move from unit to unit without paying cleaning costs, under-house themselves, tamper with the waiting lists, etc., why am I always surprised when Board members and their friends break yet another bylaw? But if George W. Bush, members of Congress and the co-op's Board members can break laws with impunity, then so can we!

After May’s Board meeting, it became even more obvious that any resident at Savo can feel free to break any bylaw we want! All we gotta do is run a slate of our cronies for the Board of Directors, get a Board majority and then do pretty much whatever we please. And to heck with the other residents, the management company and even HUD. Or we don’t even have to run for office. All we gotta do is kiss Board members [toes] and we’re in!

However, I just realized that now we don’t even have to run for office or even kiss [toes]. All we gotta do is do whatever we want and if the Board doesn’t like it, we’ll just say, "Hey, you did that. You set the precedent. We can do that too." And if they still don’t like it, we can take them to court.

But getting back to the May 2007 Board meeting. There was a lot of unit-shuffling going on. Most of it was legal and necessary -- but pay close attention to this shell game and see if you can spot the shell that still holds the pea. First the resident of the two-bedroom unit at 30 Ward Street was moved to a three-bedroom unit at 33 Milvia because she is now eligible to take foster children, a laudable thing to do. Then one of the two residents of the three-bedroom unit at 26 Ward Street was moved into the two-bedroom unit at 30 Ward Street because she has trouble going up and down stairs. Then the disabled resident of 29 Stuart Street was finally moved into the downstairs unit at 42 Ward Street after waiting for almost a year to get permission to move while a Board member tried to convince HUD Fair Housing to give the unit to her instead. But HUD stood firm and the 29 Stuart Street resident got the 42 Ward Street unit at last – it was either that or go to court. Then the resident of the two-bedroom unit at 10 Ward Street was allowed to move to the three-bedroom 16 Ward Street unit because of an increase in family composition. So far so good.

But that night nobody on the Board mentioned the elephant in the Boardroom. Nobody pointed out that the Board member who was downsized from a three-bedroom unit to a two-bedroom unit had left her relative behind in the three-bedroom unit, thus creating an illegal lateral transfer and leaving just two people to occupy five bedrooms of HUD-sponsored housing.

Do you know what this means? It means that lateral transfers, illegal under our bylaws, are now legal. A precedence has been set. If they can do it so can we. You think that your unit is too small for your family? Want to move your adolescent children into a unit of their own? No problem. Just do it. That’s what Board members do. Why shouldn’t we?

Also at the May meeting, I asked the Board president if it was finally okay to release important information that residents had a right to know -- that Board members have fired our re-hab general contractor and project manager in executive session a while ago -- seeing as how these actions have delayed our re-hab yet another summer building season (we are working on our fifth year of programed delays). The president said yes to the one firing being okay to finally become public knowledge and no to the other. So. You didn’t hear it from me.

Also at this meeting, with regard to getting a Board member transferred to a downstairs unit, the president stated that "the need for medical accommodation trumps everything". So I asked how come my doctor’s request for medical accommodation was still being denied – and also how come after I had asked for this item to be place on the agenda, they hadn’t even done that? Guess I don’t have enough friends packing the Board.

Then we interviewed a wonderful Muslim family for the 44 Ward Street unit and their management-approved request was turned down, allegedly for technical reasons – and perhaps because a Board member’s friend has her eye on the place for her relatives? – but during the discussion, one Board member actually said something to the effect that (the secretary has the actual wording on tape), "We need to select proper people who will fit this co-op." Was she indicating that Muslims are not? Oops.

And exactly who, you may ask, are the proper people to move into our co-op? You got it! Board members’ relatives!

Then the meeting came to an end with us interviewing a possible new management company – our eleventh? Or is it our twelfth? Or thirteenth? I forget. We have trouble keeping them once they find out how all the bylaws are being broken. But a Board member then told us what the real cause of this problem actually was. "People slither into the office and try to get in good with the management companies and that’s the problem." So. What does this mean? All you residents out there, when you go into the office to file your maintenance work requests or to pay your rent or to get re-certified, please don’t slither. It upsets the Board.

Well, it’s nice to know that my very own housing co-op is following a national trend. As goes the nation, so goes Savo Island. Bye-bye, Rule of Law.

PS: My son and his family will be moving back home soon. I am so delighted to have them. And in December or January, I will become a grandmother again!