A tenant who spoke out about deplorable conditions at the St. Michaels Senior Citizen Housing Center received an eviction notice a few days after an article about it appeared in The Independent.
Mario (Matt) Stutterheim, asked by neighbors to act as a tenant representative, has been ordered out of the Amagansett premises no later than November 30.
It will leave the senior citizen, who like the other residents depends on subsidies from federal Section VIII program, homeless.
Keith Kevan, Pat Knight, and Stutterheim came to The Independent to sound off about an infestation of roaches in Building B, as well as a pattern of what they said was abusive behavior by staff members. Other residents interviewed concurred, one stating they were “treated like inmates.”
Kathy Byrnes, a manager of the facility, countered her staff was “very respectful to all the tenants” and that “complaints were handled promptly.”
The Board of Directors, in a letter published in this issue, wrote, “Our policies and regulations are all approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tenants have the right to meet and form a Tenant Association and elect a representative to be on the Board of Directors.”
Byrnes acknowledged St. Michaels has not had a tenant rep at board meetings but said the rep in place became ill and was not replaced. “St. Michaels had a representative, but due to personal issues she had to resign,” the board wrote.
Stutterheim said Byrnes asked him to be tenant representative a year and a half ago but she said that he never turned in the paperwork. “She never gave me any paperwork and she never said I needed it,” he said. The board has been meeting without a rep since the other resigned, which is against U.S. Department of Health and Urban Development guidelines. The HUD guidelines also prohibit retaliation and specifically protects whistleblowers from eviction.
HUD has been less than helpful, said Stutterheim. He said he hasn’t been able to reach a representative to inform the federal agency that the St. Michaels board was threatening him. HUD had not returned a half-dozen phone calls from The Independent.
Call the Shots
A similar situation occurred at Windmill Village in East Hampton five years ago. The board, seven community members who don’t earn salaries and are seldom on the scene, ostensibly refused to let Joan Holden, a resident and the chosen tenant representative, attend meetings. But the management team of Byrnes, her husband, Brian, and Gerry Mooney, another manager, call the shots, several residents said.
When Holden protested and went public in this newspaper, Holden’s lease was terminated and she was evicted. Windmill argued she had stopped living there fulltime; Holden countered she had been driven out by the mold and mildew.
Holden filed a civil rights suit and her case is wending through the court system. Her attorney, Lawrence Kelly, said this week the system is geared toward protecting the landlord and getting rid of the whistleblower. “They designate one of their colleagues as a hearing officer. They limit the evidence and they get rid of the nuisance.”
It is yet another indication that though Section 8 is due to those who qualify as lower-income, the system often treats recipients like second class citizens, according to Kelly. “The pigs get fat and the hogs get slaughtered,” he said. “That does not protect them from the First Amendment case.”
Stutterheim is meeting with an attorney toward that end, but has already met with a representative from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office at the recommendation of an attorney.
Kevan, Knight, and Stutterheim told The Independent last week that residents are routinely threatened with eviction and they displayed warning letters they had received, signed by Byrnes.
Tenants have gone to some East Hampton Town Board members but have thus far been given the cold shoulder, they said. Since HUD subsidizes their rent, eviction would be detrimental. According to HUD guidelines, they would be ineligible for further financial assistance for three to five years, a death blow to many residents who are ill or elderly. The tenants said they go to the newspapers because otherwise their complaints are ignored.
But the residents have rights. According to the HUD manual, “Managers must give prompt consideration to all valid resident complaints and resolve them as quickly as possible.”
Residents also “have a right to organize and participate in the decisions regarding the well-being of the project and their home,” which Stutterheim said he is being punished for doing.
“If eviction isn’t retaliation, I don’t know what is,” Knight said.
Town board member Jeff Bragman did not return four phone calls. Peter Bistrian, the president of the St. Michaels board, did not return a phone call. In an accompanying article, The Independent examines the travails of Andy Malone, a 92-year-old resident of Windmill II, a senior affordable housing complex run by the same management team as St. Michaels. All his belongings were thrown away after an infestation, leaving him literally with the clothes on his back and nothing else.