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Peekskill Public Housing Residents Frustrated At Lack Of Progress

Peekskill Housing Authority commissioners clashed with Executive Director Harold Phipps and one another at their monthly meeting.
Peekskill Housing Authority commissioners clashed with Executive Director Harold Phipps and one another at their monthly meeting. Photo Credit: Art Cusano
Harold Phipps walks out of a Peekskill Housing Authority board meeting. Video Credit: msequalrights

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – Residents at Bohlman Towers and other Peekskill public housing developments continue to voice frustration at what they see as a lack of progress in leadership.

For more than a year residents have demanded that changes be made on the Peekskill Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners and that the current executive director, Harold Phipps, be removed due to complaints from tenants of incompetence and unprofessional behavior.

Those demands went unanswered again at this month's meeting on Jan. 18, when Phipps abruptly left the meeting before it ended, leaving commissioners with unanswered questions on the organization's budgets and no way to conduct an executive session in the housing office.

Tenants also demanded to know why Vice Chairwoman Leyla Ditterlizzi was still acting as chair even though her term had expired and the board, under the bylaws, was supposed to elect a new chair as soon as the former chairman, Ron Abad, left a year ago. The term of current housing attorney William Florence also has expired.

Ditterlizzi directed questions about board appointments and Phipps' status to acting City Manager Brian Havranek, who said that Phipps' fate was up to the commissioners to vote on.

"We are waiting for someone [new] to come aboard, and I will step down. That's the plan," Ditterlizzi told tenants.

Florence told residents that commissioners remain in office until they are replaced and that Phipps would step down when a replacement was found. Applications are being accepted, he added. Florence said that although residents argued that Phipps' contract was public, he could not go into further detail.

Commissioner Michael Kane argued that a new chair already should have been elected, and complained that the board was not following proper procedures.

"The bylaws that were just approved say a vacancy is supposed to be filled at the next meeting, ASAP," Kane said.

The authority was also supposed to hold an election for two tenant members to serve on the board in November, but that election was not held.

Residents and some commissioners also wanted to get a copy of recent monthly budgets after seeing a sharp increase in flat rents and questions raised over money paid to an outside business to remove snow at Housing Authority properties instead of using housing maintenance workers. Phipps insisted board members received a budget each month.

Commissioner Diana Burress told Phipps he needed to answer questions from residents and board members in a serious manner, which led Phipps to leave the meeting.

"Before we say we don't have any money for anything, we need to see a budget," Burress said. "There needs to be transparency. and we've talked about that. The residents have questions, and it's your role as executive director to answer them in a professional way."

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