By Donald Wittkowski
The Ocean City Housing Authority was forced to cancel its second straight monthly meeting because of vacancies on its board of commissioners, but help is on the way.
The seven-member board is down to only four commissioners following the death of Ed Speitel in September and resignation of Portia Thompson.
There is a third vacancy on the board because Gov. Chris Christie has not yet appointed his representative to the authority. The governor’s seat has been open for more than a year, and it is not yet clear when Christie intends to fill it, said Bob Barr, a city councilman who also serves as the housing authority’s chairman.
All of the vacancies have made it difficult for the authority to muster up enough commissioners for its board meetings. It lacked a quorum for its September and October meetings, so both were canceled.
However, Barr said City Council is expected to make two appointments to the housing authority when it meets on Tuesday night, which should solve the vacancy crisis.
The housing authority candidates will be reviewed by a Council committee before a vote is taken on their appointment. Barr, who is on the committee, said he doesn’t know the names of the candidates yet.
Up to this point, there has been no serious impact on the authority’s daily operations caused by the meeting cancellations, according to Barr.
“The day-to-day work is still going on,” he said. “We’re fine. I can sign the bills to keep things going, and on Tuesday night, we expect to have two new commissioners.”
The authority is in the midst of reforming its management and finances following the firing in May of former Executive Director Alesia Watson, who pleaded guilty to embezzling federal housing funds from the agency.
Watson, who was sentenced to three years of probation in September, admitted misusing two housing authority credit cards to buy 69 gift cards for herself, friends and family members.
Watson then used federal housing funds administered by the authority to pay off the credit card bills for the purchase of the gift cards, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Authorities estimated between $6,500 and $15,000 was lost in the embezzlement scheme.
As Watson’s replacement, Jacqueline Jones, the executive director of the Vineland Housing Authority, has taken on the same role at the Ocean City Housing Authority under a shared-services agreement between both towns.
The Ocean City Housing Authority uses federal funds to provide affordable housing for low-income senior citizens, families and the disabled at its Pecks Beach Village and Bay View Manor facilities.
In a major shift of its operations, the authority is preparing to build a new $4.2 million affordable-housing complex that will replace the Pecks Beach Village site. A Hurricane Sandy recovery grant from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency will finance the project.
Barr said the authority’s architect is expected to present renderings for the project during the board meeting in November.
The project will be built in the parking lot adjacent to Bay View Manor, a five-story building on Sixth Street and West Avenue that offers affordable housing for seniors. The Pecks Beach Village site on Fourth Street will be demolished.
Barr said the housing authority hopes to have the new complex ready for its residents by the end of 2019.