Interview by Maria Forbes
Maria: Good Afternoon Miss Paulette, my name is Maria and I am here to interview you on the behalf of public housing; could you tell me a little bit of things about yourself?
Paulette: Paulette Shomo, I am age 75, I have been living here in Marble Hill for over 50 years; I have enjoyed every time and every year that I have been living here.
Maria: Beautiful. Did you move in with your children and raise your children here?
Paulette: Yes, I raised my children here. I moved in with one, then another one, and then another one. So 62, 63, and 64, September, no August and September and October were the birth date so they were right behind each other. And I remember just even coming here for the interview and be ready to rent, how beautiful this place was. My mother told me it used to be farmland, animals were all over the place, she used to go to Van Cortlandt park for the cricket games and stuff like that. But it has been a wonderful experience being here. There has been some more positive than negative things and aspects.
Maria: So tell me a little bit in raising your children what did they benefit out of living in public housing?
Paulette: I think it was that they learned a lot of respect, during those times housing had very strict rules in regard to how you can comply with the rules and regulations, there was no walking on the grass, there was no rollerskating, you had to go to places where those were permitted and we knew that you didn’t take things and throw them out the window and stuff, we knew that people had gotten fines. See housing was very serious about if you didn’t follow the rules or regulations you were being fined in regard, and the kids got less installed and known because their mothers and fathers objected for the fact you did something wrong when you knew the rules or regulation. Now it’s different, housing has, even though the regulations and certain things are still here, it’s not like it was before because you see the bicycles, the motorcycles, you see all types of things right now, but I think still it’s a good community, I feel it’s a safe and secure community. We don’t have any gang type of activity, maybe people who try to pretend that their gangs or stuff like that, we do have people that do things that are wrong, we do have concerns about drug usage or drug selling, but when it comes to the to the percentage of crimes statistics we are very low in that region of the statistical facts
Maria: I want to ask you still a little bit more questions in regarding to your children. As your children grew up here, did they benefit from the services that public house offered?
Paulette: Well during that time, considering that they were very young at the time, they benefit basically by the fact just going to good schools that were here in this neighborhood. The school system here would be from one school to another school to another school so you knew exactly where you were going to be located at. The kids learned their education, it was a good education. They didn’t go into anything big. My son became a head mechanic for cap service, and my son ended working for the housing authority, but working for the contractors under the housing authority in regard to tower replacement for the tenants of the development.
Maria: So that is a program they call section 3.
Paulette: Not really at that time. It might have been but that is not how I found out to be. They had offered, you know, jobs and opportunities and things like that. But he worked for a private company that had dealings with the housing authority as private contractors. So he worked for a company that was named, well I won’t say the name of the company, but that… that’s what he did, he worked in towers and replacement of towers. But I lost both of my sons, so I just have my daughter left right now.
Maria: Okay. Today moving fast forward. What do you think would help public housing residents in moving forward?
Paulette: They need to be more involved in what’s going on here in Marble Hill. People come from work or whatever they might be doing and not coming to any of the meetings that we have. Our membership could be much larger, our attendance and our community center could be much larger so what we get of the all timers, people who have gone through this development through the course of the years, who have raised their children, they are the ones who are still concerned and come up to our meetings. We try by doing the flyers, saying, requesting especially, that new residents come out here and understand what’s going on, we want them to be in the meeting. Not hearing what might have been in a meeting how it changes when we go outside, we need them here in the meeting to know there is a power here. But you need the cooperation of the residents. Most of them just wanna, they are happy with where they are , doing whatever they have to do. But the participation is not great. The biggest participation is when we have the annual family day, and we got tenants all over the place out here, and then children. So you know the tenants also need to participate in the family day, give giveaways, you know, the picnic type of thing.
Maria: So do yo know how many units are here, and how long have you sat on the tenant association?
Paulette: There are 1682 units in Marble Hill. I have sat on the tenants association board for .. maybe.. a good 15 years or so. Right now, I am not on the tenants, I am on the tenant association but not as a the president, I am treasurer now of the tenant association, so I have been involved in the tenant association for a long time, I was a former retired member of the New York City house before that after 37 years. I started as a receptionist and ended up being a housing assistant, because opportunities of then ended up to jobs and things like, oh you had to fill up applications and hope to pass the test on the civil service rules of the town that I was, you know, working. But, I have enjoyed here, I used to work with residents who were at risk here, the tenants who had mental problems, social problems, children problems, whatever might have happened we worked along with protective services. Right now, one of the goals of in the housing is the future generations type of thing. We aim to partnership with all the different agencies that we need to be able to par to bring a better community and bringing resources, and things they need to know for also to move on forward?
Maria: Well have you been able as part of the tenant association to sit down with the housing authority and offer your new solutions and new recommendations?
Paulette: I have no problem with the management office. We meet at all the contracts, all the things that benefits this developments, I meet with them, meet with the contractors, I meet with the housing authority, the personal. I know the ins and out, some what’s going on, what’s gonna be brought to this new development, we have new lighting coming up, we have new flooring coming up, we have new sidewalk that needs to be taken care of, so with the help of politicians we are able to bring money. So we get $750,000 and more than $750,000 and all of these are for improvement of lighting. And of course the groundwork needs to be done, and so we get pretty good funding. My biggest concern is the fencing around the development, that’s definitely an upgrade we have a wish list and one of the other developments has this fencing and make this place look a complex basically that’s why we call the housing development, when people ask, I’m living in a complex, cause that entranceway looks so elegant in sometimes in some of the developments, but we weren’t federalized for long time. When the federal developments get much more resources to come and do much more things for their development, but like I said we are moving on and I think we have great cooperation, maybe not in some of the developments, but I think so that in Marble Hill they come to our meetings I have no problem with contacting them on the phone, no problem with meeting with them, no problem with the caretakers, the maintenance. We know there is problem with, but I am able to address and talk to them: concerns with the residents, noise complaints, activity going longer than it should be going, drug activities, whatever they might be, can be addressed not only to the housing authorities, but of course definitely to the police department in regard to that.
Maria: So another question I would ask you is have you met with management from downtown, have you met with the chair, the general manager and when they brought the new program, I think it was a two-year development or new management who finance and did new repairing in here, did those people from 250 Broadway come up and say, let us meet with the executive board?
Paulette: We have had just recently the other day we had to sit with shadow program, this is a new program in regarding to gardening work here and the chair program person, she was not able to come but she sent a representative. I’ve met with Shola, I call her by her first name, but she has been here for different events and things like that she’s an open person. There hasn’t been any problem that we can see. I met with other general managers and other things, of course there’s meetings down to 50 Broadway either if they have it at 90s church, there’s been some changes in regards to the board members and different things in the Housing Authority but I really don’t have any problems and the board doesn’t have any problems, but some of the residents are not happy. You know they, they complain about certain things and of course everybody has a right to complain but some of them don’t understand what happens with the rules of regulation, they don’t come to meetings and I’m asking, I want to request that booklets and different things that were used to be given to us, to the new tenants don’t seem to be being done that like rules and regulations of Housing Authority the new handbooks about how you should take care of your apartment and do certain things. The do’s and don’ts of the garbage disposal, How people are just really dumping garbage all over the place they put mattresses and furniture and there’s a certain timeframe for people to do certain things but this is just like a disregard of where they live and should still be maintained.
Maria: So when you moved in, I can almost clearly remember that those rules and regulations were clearly spelled out to you definitely and today there’s just like such a commercial aspect of it that they are just given a lease and they sign it and no other information is given to them
Paulette: You are definitely right. In regard to the people who are coming in here from the homeless shelter, and the place is open to everybody: homeless shelter, section A, whatever you might desire. Because everybody wants a nice, clean, and affordable safe place. But I have been told and informed that when the people in the homeless shelter, it’s a fast turnover, and when there is a vacant apartment here, it goes straight to whatever system in homeless house and the next thing we get somebody. There is no interview in time here, they say they move them so fast, the man thing is to get the paperwork done, and the next thing you know, there is no real communication,, because when someone is coming in, as long as they get the key, they … don’t need anymore participation in what goes on in the development. I don’t want to blame it all on…
Maria: What would you do to change that?
Paulette: Well, we still try to keep put notices in regard and inviting the new residents to come to our meetings and maybe once in awhile you may get a straggler, I don’t know if they think that we are the opposition, acting negative to them but that’s not really so. We get rumors back about people saying negative things about it, they can’t do an anything for us, but they don’t seem to understand that because of the tenants association, what needs to be given, at least they come to us, that is how the planning works, what needs to be done like, I said we’re getting a lot of things done and taken care of. So some of the residents are just, the way they are, all they want to do is come and do what they have to do, pay their rent and like leave us alone, leave us alone. And the garbage, even though we have all the places for them to put their garbage, the incinerator, they make these great big bags and then bring them downstairs, and they won’t put them places where they are.
Maria: So, I’m actually going to ask you a question about the management. Was it a new management that took over, and was it that you became federalized when, I wanna say maybe administration changed federally and something?
Paulette: Not really. We just knew that we were always asking in regard to federalization, there were about 26 to 28 developments that were never federalized, but doing the course of the years, we finally got recognition as being a federal development, but it took a lot of years for this to take place because when you are federalized, the moneys go to, more so, to the federal, federalized subsidized apartments that it does here.
Maria: Maybe some more, some more of the positive things that are here?
Paulette: The community center is a positive thing here for our children, the only thing is that they don’t have a basketball court in here. We’re looking forward to have a new center, to which I don’t know if that will ever be happen as educational components. Some of the kids here even get jobs in regard to the gardening work that is being done here on young children. They do have basketball tournaments from both sides of the area. And housing does offer educational things, we’re dealing with the community board thing, aid, the riverdale center, there’s all kind of things around here for children to participate, if they would participate in it, it’s hard to bring kids in the center when there is no basketball court inside, even though it’s outside, but in the winter time, you want them not to be in the street, but be in some kind of closed setting, where they can learn, and even if it’s sports in here, games, and whatever needs to be taken care, they have the tutoring program after, when the kids come in here, they have a tutoring program to work on their studies, for the younger kids. And they they have an other program, which is for the older kids. So there is educational things right here for them to do, only if they partake in it.
Maria: So I want to ask you what would be one story that you would always want to tell about public housing?
Paulette: Good question
Maria: You can give me two, you know what. You can give a bad story and you can give a good story.
Paulette: I don’t know if I have a bad story in regard to the Housing Authority, if I had a bad story it would be not for being in the housing development per say, a bad story about working for the Housing Authority in regard to supervisor’s position. There are some excellent workers and supervisors but sometimes along the way you would get a supervisor and you would wonder what did I do to you, what makes you so hard? And in one instance I had to put in a transfer; what it happened a big supervisor came to me, “Mrs. Paulette, put a transfer because she’s giving you a hard time”. I didn’t have to leave the building, I just went to another department, but such a difference when I went to the other department, just a difference in the supervisor in the people that I worked with. And then I get to be more involved with the residents and I like the atmosphere of being able to help the residents with what has to do with rental and whatever needs to be done. So that would be my only bad experience in the Housing Authority. A good experience was that I was able to… well, it was nothing but a good experience.
Maria: If there was one story that was so so good that you want to tell about the housing development?
Paulette: Well still back to supervisor that I had in regards to being here as part of the marble Hill houses in being offered other developments, and just in the circumstances when it happened, I was in the hospital I can move to this one, income was too high to go to this one, and Marble-Hill opened up and I think this is the best thing that was ever done for me, and being allowed to be here in Marble Hill. But I just been a part of this community for so many years and I think I made a lot of fellowships a lot of friends in here when people say I miss you I’m gonna kiss you , people call me grandma sometimes and I got a lot of grandchildren around here in the development. But to say that it really has been… that question was a good question, but trying to figure out what to to say about it but it’s just…
Maria: Like I’ll give you an example, like if you had a blackout, or and emergency, disaster something that really turned around to be positive you know what I’m saying is that the Housing Authority came to the developments rescue and that it never got shared in the story, in the newspaper, you know where it got never shared and that is something that hold you dear because you knew what, you knew that they never forgot about Marble Hill, they came to help you all.
Paulette: I knew that the blackout was one of them, I remember being on the bus coming from housing, coming from working, and that was the time the lights went out, and when I got into the building it was just so dark and everything, but what I was so happy was that there was a police officer, housing officer that was right there with a flashlight and all the things, and people were scared, you know people, this is something that may have never have happened to them and I was scared by walking up, I only had to walk up eight flight and see, I was able to do it easier, I can’t do it now, but I was able to walk up eight flights. But just the fact that the officer was there, he helped not just myself but he helped other people in the building to be able to get to their apartments safely. And there might be other stories in regard,I know that the maintenance man, I don’t know if it was because of my position that they’re really good people that come, now some people complain and fuss about it, but I’ve never had that same problem with them of they don’t do this, they don’t do that you know but so far so good.
Maria: What do you remember before the merger took place, you mentioned the police, talk about the police.
Paulette: Well working for the housing, like I said, I worked for a number of housing officers, and I like that familiarity or that fellowship because I worked at Claremont Village, 24 officers around the clock at various times, so well protected, just a good family type of thing. Officers that were really concerned about these children here, just like I said about Big Sam who’s past on, but just knowing that he was here, he’s going to residence apartment, he’s going to speak to the children and not just him by himself but maybe with other officers, but Sam was the one like, when you said Big Sam was coming, kids would be like I’ll keep myself correct and good. Because one of the young man he didn’t live here, he lived in Lincoln, he became a housing officer because of Big Sam, because he said he saw, Big Sam saw him getting into trouble and before he got into a place where he couldn’t be an officer he worked in training with him and he became a housing officer you know. But that merger that takes us away from what is happening. All these would know the family, I mean they would know the children.
Maria: When you move in here, they had the police?
Paulette: Under the housing officers.
Maria: So having that police station in here in your development, how did you feel about that?
Paulette: I think it was a much safer environment with them being around and it’s, it’s what is happening now. Like I said, they were there 8 to 4, 4 to 12,12 to 8, it was round the clock. Now what happened with the merger, the fact that the officers really don’t know what goes on here, some of them are very very good, and some of there are very very bad in a way. Because the children or teenagers and even adults, feel at the times that the police are not doing anything for them because there’s a thing about noise complaints and then of course when you call the 311 and 911 to be responded by the 50th, and you say there’s a noise complaint, there someone making so much racket, like that, that doesn’t become a priority. And I can understand it because somebody could be shot another place, but the tenants feel that if you could do things about one thing, you should be able to do all of the things, but these officers don’t come on duty here for us until four and five o’clock something like that. Most of these offices don’t live nowhere near here, they’re all upstate someplace, they don’t get a chance to understand what is going on. They do have a good explorer division in, the precinct, but kids can all along the way become officers, which I know one of them did, one of them did, and that was a good thing to see him, and beside when that grey uniform of explorer and his blue regalia that was a pride time, you knew thing, but I’d prefer that Giuliani kept out of it, because the merger was not good, I prefer. Even though there is a type of housing officers, it is just not the same for them. They are not bad officers, I’m not saying that, I just was more comfortable with the way they had it before Giuliani decided he wanted his way, I guess not by himself, but everyone else who thought that idea was good too. But I have a good rapport with the officers, I’m not upset by them, you know sometimes there are some things.
Maria: But the relationships with the residents and the officers could be made stronger.
Paulette: Could be stronger, could be stronger. Because we are trying to tell the residents, at which point there was a communication between both, housing offers, officers and whatever, there should be some kind of communication and talk to. Right now they come into the center to be here around, because the center is not open until eleven o’clock, you know, so , it is always a good person, I try to tell to be respected, I wish people could respect, people who don’t do what they are supposed to do, children and otherwise, but I don’t like they say some things, that I have heard myself, “a bunch of animals, who live here”, that disturbed me. So I tell, them, I will speak to them, I don’t know which one, I don’t know the names, but just they need to be, a little bit more careful what they comment about, because we are not animals, I mean we are human beings, and don’t put us in that type of category. Because some people don’t know to do certain things, you know.
Maria: And I would like to say thank you so much.
Paulette: Thank you!
Maria: You have given so much information and I am more than sure that they would be shared abroad and people could use this information,and learning how to work with public housing, and just to assist the residents. Is there anything else that you think you left out that may be helpful?
Paulette: I don’t know, I don’t know if anything has been left out, I just wished there was more cooperation from the residents in the developments, they are not interested or concerned. But if we have more cooperation, we have more power, more power in numbers; we are divided into three different districts, three different political areas, and there is nothing wrong, they help us, they do things for us, but I think if we would combine under one, we would have more power and voice vocal wise. Hopefully we can work together for a better cause, for the development
Maria: I could see, I just want to make this recommendation, if you could still bring all three districts together for an executive board meeting, I think that would be a good assistance.
Paulette: We do see them at various meetings, it is not like everybody is always together. It could be something that one person does and we go to the events, they come to us in regard to everything. Like I said the three of us together, but they do help us, afford bringing capital funding and different things for the development. Like I said, landscaping and lighting and all the other things. And cameras! We got a awful abundance of cameras now, which is good because the cameras that we had were not focused quite correctly, more moneys came in and we got all the cameras in the world, bright and clear now. They are not finished yet but they are being worked on!
Maria: Thank you so much!
Paulette: Thank you! Thank you.