It was only eight months ago that Hoboken resident Hector Claveria, 36, was appointed to the seven-member volunteer board that oversees Hoboken’s housing projects, after several City Council people touted his financial expertise and said the board needed new blood.
“File this under ‘desperate people do desperate things.’ ” – Perry Belfiore
This past Tuesday, Claveria was arrested and charged with taking a bribe to move a tenant in the projects up on the wait list for a housing voucher.
“File this under ‘desperate people do desperate things,’ ” said fellow Hoboken Housing Authority commissioner Perry Belfiore last week. “I love Hector and I feel for his family. He’s not the first Housing Authority commissioner to get jammed up.”
Claveria was charged with bribery, official misconduct, and receiving an unlawful benefit, according to Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio.
On Wednesday, he pleaded not guilty and was released on $65,000 bail.
The Prosecutor’s Office said they were tipped off to possible wrongdoing a week earlier by Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia and the Authority’s attorney.
The Hudson County Special Investigations Unit used surveillance and other methods to determine that Claveria allegedly took cash to move a tenant up the waiting list for federally funded Section 8 vouchers distributed by the Housing Authority.
DeFazio said it is believed that Claveria received a “substantial amount of money” – more than $200, to make it a second degree crime – in exchange for his helping the tenant. Sources claimed last week that the alleged bribe was roughly $5,000.
Garcia was on vacation last week and was not available for comment, but Belfiore said members of the board have no way to move people up on the list anyway. The list is under the management of Garcia and other administrators, he said.
A limited number of Section 8 vouchers are provided to low-income residents to subsidize their rents outside of the projects.
Belfiore said that in the past, he, too, has been asked by people to move them up on the list. He said that two days before Claveria’s arrest, a woman at Fox Hill Gardens – a senior building – asked him if he could move her up.
“I said, ‘Not unless I get indicted,’ ” Belfiore said. “Then two days later…”
Claveria, 36, was appointed to the volunteer housing board in November by the City Council after Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer and her supporters touted his financial prowess and pushed for him to replace longtime commissioner Angel Alicea. Several HHA tenants who liked Alicea came to the meeting and protested, but Zimmer and others said the board needed new blood.
Along with Zimmer, Councilman Michael Russo, who also sits on the housing board, and Councilwoman Beth Mason backed Claveria over Alicea.
At the time, officials said that Claveria had been watching a council meeting on TV and saw that they were considering new people for the board, so he asked Zimmer for the appointment.
After his appointment, Claveria became an ally of new Mayor Peter Cammarano, too. Claveria and his wife Barbara were integral parts of the campaign and Claveria was also part of transition team.
According to one source, Claveria was an architect of Cammarano’s affordable housing campaign platform.
Cammarano sent out a press release last week saying his administration has “zero tolerance” for misconduct and that Claveria should resign immediately.
Claveria’s lawyer, Frank Cutruzzula, said a grand jury will review the merits of the case in a secret proceeding, and decide if and when an indictment will be made.
Claveria told one reporter that he was set up, but he was not available for comment. Cutruzzula declined to broach the subject.
Resign or be removed
Zimmer, on her way back from vacation on Wednesday, seconded Cammarano’s stance and said the council was prepared to proceed with removal proceeding if Claveria didn’t offer his resignation soon.
Sandra Smith, who lives in the projects, said this isn’t the first time the residents there were preyed upon.
“When y’all pick on innocent people, it’s going to come back to haunt you,” she said last week, noting that people in the Housing Authority have little money to pay for favors and are some times themselves the focus of unnecessary investigations.
Funded with federal taxes
In New Jersey, 278 of the state’s 566 municipalities have local housing authorities that help the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversee federally funded low-income projects and senior buildings. Over the years, HUD has provided less and less oversight of the local authorities and their political appointees, although HUD does conduct annual audits. There have been many scandals in local projects. Hoboken suffered six years ago when a previous executive director, Troy Washington, apparently left the HHA with a big deficit, discovered by his successor. In addition, during the 1990s, an HHA vice chairman went to jail for using various HHA resources to benefit himself.
Just this last week, the North Bergen Reporter published an article about the director of Guttenberg Housing Authority purchasing a $770,000 Monmouth Beach shore home with two tenants who also work for the GHA. The mayor of that town is now asking questions about the legality.
For more Reporter stories on corruption in local housing projects, see www.hudsonreporter.com.
Act of desperation
Last week, Belfiore commended Director Garcia for bringing the situation to light. “Carmelo did exactly the right thing,” he said.
He said two weeks ago, at the last Housing Authority meeting, Garcia made a point to review commissioner guidelines sent to housing authorities from the Attorney General’s office.
Belfiore said, “It was the ‘dos and don’ts’ of being a commissioner.”
Unfortunately, he said, not everyone got the message.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.