EXCLUSIVE: Housing Authority Exec Alleges Zimmer Holding Sandy Recovery Funds Hostage

By David Cruz

Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia says he wanted to use the recording of his meeting to document the mayor’s role in this, what he alleges is two years of political and personal harassment stemming from his refusal to accept Dawn Zimmer’s choice to become the HHA’s attorney. But that was just part 1, he says.

“The second came thereafter,” he said, “which was to block and deny an application for Sandy recovery funds to build the first 44 unit Sandy-proof building, post Sandy.”

The plan is called Vision 2020, a proposal to transform the Hoboken Housing Authority’s west side development into a more vibrant new community that could withstand another major storm. The plan, which adds some 200 units to the HHA’s inventory, won initial approval by the authority’s board. Now, the HHA wants to apply for Sandy recovery funds through a HUD and Community Development Block Grant program that Garcia says provides $12 million to help fund Phase I of Vision 2020. But the application requires a so-called “resolution of need” to be approved by the city council in order to be considered viable.

“You need the city’s support on a ‘resolution of need’ that simply says that the city concurs that there is a need for new affordable housing or replacement affordable housing,” said Garcia. “That’s it.”

But when the resolution came before the Zimmer-aligned council last year it was voted down, twice, raising Garcia’s concerns that the Zimmer-aligned council was tying the resolution on the Sandy relief funds to the selection of new attorney for the HHA.

A 2013 email to Garcia from the managing director of the firm hired to prepare the Sandy funds application expresses similar fears. It reads: “Our conclusion is that the Board, with the Mayor’s support, is going to hold any decisions about the developer selection, project funding and all related and necessary official actions, hostage to the totally unrelated matter of HHA Gen’l Counsel selection. As frustrating and ridiculous as that is, I now see that as our reality, at least for some weeks ahead.”

One of the no votes came from Councilman Ravi Bhalla, a Zimmer running mate — and, coincidentally, a partner in Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, the law firm Garcia alleges is favored by Zimmer to take over the contract at HHA. Bhalla says he voted no because he hasn’t seen any evidence to suggest that the city needs more affordable housing.

“As of this point, the city has not done a comprehensive analysis or study as to what percentage we have in the city of Hoboken of affordable housing, as opposed to market rate housing,” said Bhalla, “so we cannot assertively state that there is a need for affordable housing or rehabilitated housing without looking at the city as a whole.”

Garcia, who points out that Vision 2020 won a Smart Growth Award in 2011, says the council no vote on the resolution has more to do with power politics than any study or analysis. He says the mayor’s husband made it clear to him last year that the political landscape was changing.

“If [Zimmer’s] goal was to go to war with Carmelo Garcia, then you would’ve been dealing with a hostile board two years ago,” says Stan Grossbard, Zimmer’s husband.

“So, then what changed?” asks Garcia.

“Nothing changed,” replies Grossbard. “Over time, the consistency of the board is going to change because you’re going to have board members that are from, what I call, our political party.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Sources say any hopes of peace between Garcia and Zimmer is long gone. When you secretly record the mayor’s husband what do you expect, said one, which means that it could be a long time before anyone actually sees Vision 2020.

Related: EXCLUSIVE: Hoboken Housing Authority Director Claims Zimmer’s Husband ‘Bullied’ Him