Interview by Charlene Nimmons
Paulette: My name is Paulette Shomo. I’m 75 years of age and I’ve lived in Marble Hill houses for over 50 years.
Charlene: Nice to meet you. So what is some of your thoughts about educating residents?
Paulette: I think a lot of the newer tenants are not aware of certain rules and regulations that need to be given to them in documentation or by them coming out to our tenant association meetings. Many years ago, each tenant got when they came for the interview for rental, they received booklets and papers on how to clean your apartment, how to take care of any kind of infestation and things that might have been happening in your apartment, rules and regulations, dos and don’ts when it becomes regarding garbage disposal, proper taking care of grounds where you live, make sure your apartment is well taken care of, that unauthorized persons should not be in the household, and that they would need to know that housing wants them to live comfortable and to live safe, but sometimes they can affect things that are negative not just to themselves but to other residents because we all living here together. This development has 1682 apartments. It’s a lot of people. It’s a diverse community and like you said, we all need to be able to live together in fellowship and work hand in hand and all of that. We can have a safe and secure development and that our lives can be richly blessed in what we need to do here at Marble Hill houses.
Charlene: Awesome. How long have you lived here?
Paulette: Over 50 years! I came here in I believe, it was 1963, coming off the train station here at West 225 looking at that like I went into another world. This was new to me. Here my mother said this is to be farmland and animals were all around here. Beautiful place! It’s still a beautiful place. I still feel it’s a secure, safe place, but you must always look behind you, left right, when you go into the buildings. Don’t think that you just perfectly safe, but be aware of your circumstances. Be aware of your surroundings. Then you could have a nice life here at Marble Hill houses. Our crime statistics are pretty decent when it comes to we’re not one of the worst developments in the world, in the public housing. I worked for the housing authority for 37 years and retired. And even though, there might have been some difficulties with some supervisors, very very few supervisors had…I’m going to tell you the truth, it was only one, but (laughs) from that…each person that I was involved in so far as being my supervisor always gave you something that you needed to be able to work efficiently. I worked with the residents who were at risk, meaning that they had concerns and problems: their rent wasn’t being paid, you had to make sure the proper outside agencies, the partnerships were involved in their cases so that they can take care of their rental responsibilities and just follow the rules and regulations of the housing authority.
Charlene: That’s phenomenal. In all of the years that you’ve lived here, do you find that it’s more…a much more needed partnership between residents and the housing authority? Or was it better in the past? What type of relationship is it between the residents and the New York City Housing Authority?
Paulette: When I moved in here, I believed the relationship between the housing authority and the residents was in a better mode. What has happened during the course of the years, when the housing authority has let’s say more control over, I don’t want to use that word control over the residents but there were things that we never did that are going on right now. When they had the ability to do and tell us no walking on the grass, no bicycle riding, no throwing things out the window, make sure that you’re choosing to do what they supposed to be doing. And then there was a change because an official came into the housing authority and felt that tenants should be more involved in what’s going on where they live. And it was a good idea! But sometimes you can’t give people too much power that they able to kind of maybe change the tide. We want everybody to live well but at the same time, sometimes it’s too much of a demand they put on the housing authority for certain things. But everybody should be living safely, they should also be thought about as well-paying tenants and make sure that the housing authority takes care of the buildings that we have to pay for and that the caretakers and the workers do their responsibilities on their jobs. Some of them do and some of them don’t. I have a good relationship with the management department and the maintenance so I don’t really have too much of a problem there. They’re open in regards to seeing tenants, opening up to the tenants association, we were able to sit down and compromise and do the things that we need to do all for the benefit of the residents here. [00:06:07]
Charlene: So would you say that it’s better for the residents and the housing authority staff to be trained in ways of how to relate with one another?
Paulette: That’s a definite good idea! When I worked for the housing authority, we were trained as workers and a certain way of respect to the residents. Some things that you had to say. I started off as a receptionist and you had to say “Yes please. How may I help you? What can I do for you?” Such a different relationship, now when you call the housing authority and sometimes when I have called different, various developments because as I said I was dealing with at risk tenants in various developments, sometimes cordiality was not there. I said this is the New York City Housing Authority, ya? There’s a proper training that needs to be done to all of the employees to know how to deal with the public, to be able to get along with the public. And sometimes the training is less even though housing does having training programs, doesn’t mean that our employees hear what they’ve been told to do.
Charlene: So the importance of a training staff is a necessity and what about the residents in relationship with staff?
Paulette: That’s another thing also because the residents and I’m sure maybe it’s in other developments. When there’s dirt and paper and garbage in the hallways and we talk to them about the fact that this should not be done. “Oh, the caretaker gets paid for the job, let him pick it up!” That’s such a negative idea. I mean that they are working individuals, they do good pay to take care of the buildings but doesn’t mean that the resident has to make it in such a condition that it makes extra work for the caretakers. It takes away from work that they need to do. If they taking garbage all day long from the buildings, the elevators in front of the buildings, and they can’t get to their proper schedule. Maybe they’ve taken away from the mopping of the floors. It’s just a lot of things, the graffiti happens, it’s just a lot of things. And even though the caretakers do get paid to work we must show some kind of cooperation with them and all the staff.
Charlene: Are you saying that it’s important for everyone to figure out and respect the needs of each other?
Paulette: Definitely. I remember years ago when I first worked for the housing authority, a caretaker and the manager of the caretaker and the superintendent, there were some who felt that they were look down upon and I’ve experienced that because when I became a superintendent’s secretary, there were some issues and trying to tell them you have a right, they should respect your right and you should respect their right. Training and leadership and having good employees and supervisors will not have this thing happening. But I remember years ago, one of the caretakers, not just one, was upset because he always felt that they were looking down on him because his job was a lowly position let’s say, but I knew that the housing authority offers a lot in training and offers job opportunities for those who work for them, I guess just like any other city agency. You could come in as a caretaker, I know people who have come in as a caretaker and leave out as managers of a development or superintendent of a development. So the job opportunities are open if we just take advantage of them.
Charlene: So you believe that there’s really great opportunities for even the residents who live in public housing?
Paulette: I definitely think that there’s a lot of advantages. The Riis program, resident engagement, whatever some of the things that they have. Sometimes it doesn’t suit everybody in the development, especially if they have to travel someplace, especially if they haven’t the education that’s needed, and other things that might hinder, you know our children can sometimes get into trouble so they could have a record. It hinders them from getting some jobs. Not even that they have to be the top position, but something that even in lower level makes it difficult for them to get. And what we want is our children to be productive and have a place in society so there are a lot of opportunities for them but also a lot of things that hinder them from going on further than what they would like to do. The community center here offers a lot of educational components. At the same time, we know our children like to play basketball. So in the winter time, this center, even though it has a lot of educational opportunities, there’s no basketball court like some of the newer developments. We’ve been asking to have a hopefully new community center but so far it hasn’t worked out. Because one thing, you gotta bring the kids into a place if they don’t feel that they have no reason to go into the place, why would I go in there to see, but once they get in here they’ll understand a lot of things are being done. Our kids right now, even though they have basketball tournaments going on in the park and part of the housing authority grounds, if there was a basketball place inside in the wintertime, it would keep them off the streets and have them inside the place. I think it would be better for them. More opportunities and more getting along with some of the fellas that deal with and fellas that they don’t know. I think there should be a fellowship with them.
Charlene: Are you saying that it’s important for the residents from earlier ages and earlier times in which they lived in the community to somehow import or impact the new residents that come in or the younger generation? [00:12:00]
Paulette: I guess there’s a generation gap. What we taught our children and what they did are so different from what the children are being taught now. One of the things we had a discussion is that you can’t sometimes even go to the parents of these children. I know there are some parents think “my child could not do wrong, can’t be talking about my child,” but it does happen sometimes. I remember when I first moved in here, I got a call from the manager and the manager happened to be someone I worked with before. And she said, “oh I got a complain about the Shomo boys.” And I said… They broke a glass in the lobby. I said, “When did this take place?” “Such and such a time and such and such a day.” I said, “No, I came in, I was just, no. I came in and the kids were upstairs in the house. So what?” So I said, “let me tell you something. I’m going to put a notice in the building because if they did it, even though somebody said something, someone’s going to tell me the truth.” And the notices were put in the building and definitely I get a call. Come to find it, it wasn’t my children, it was children on the ground floor. There was some kind of argument among a girlfriend and her boyfriend and he broke the glass. Like the housing, the manager said sometimes it’s not that they’re telling the truth, but sometimes you have enemies in the housing authority. Because you’re trying to do something and they see it as a threat to maybe what they’re trying to do. It’s just a matter of fact that our children and this development really doesn’t have a gang type of a thing like some developments have. Not that we’re the perfect, you know, development, but there’s not a gang activity. If there’s something that’s going on it’s really kind of hush hush. We know that the police are here, that the police have confiscated things, I know that they’ve taken the tenant – not taken the tenant out, but taken their equipment because their music was in the stair and you know in the window, big stereos and stuff like that. Some of our residents don’t even speak to each other. We have new residents on my floor and if you don’t say anything to them, there’s no kind of communication. My neighbor next door, another neighbor on the floor. But I guess I’ve been taught that as an adult and older person, the respect should come from the other person. But automatically, I will say it, and you kind of get the feeling that maybe they don’t really want to talk to you in the first place. Some people think “oh I’m going to get friendly with the tenants here and the building’s going to be in my house.” I don’t visit anybody. You know what I’m saying? It’s just the fact that you wanna be able to get along with the people that live on your floor, neighbors. And some of our neighbors are quite good neighbors because they take care of the building and as far as the floor’s concerned and taking care of the cleanliness.[00:14:43] When people come into my particular area on my floor, they said “how come your floor look so different?” I say, “because cooperation among the residents.” I can go on some of the floors and my building’s like a war zone has happened. You know the graffiti. The housing comes and does the painting, so you got these white patches all over them, you know and placed like that. But I love this place. I am just telling the truth and people say “are you going to go move?” My kids are always wanting to go some other place and do something. I say let me tell you something, if I hit the lottery, I’m not going to any place in this neighborhood but I’m gonna go to Riverdale. That’s about as far as where you’re going to get me from this place. That’s it! (Laughs).
Charlene: So you really believe in where you live?
Paulette: Yes, I do. I have enjoyed the number of years that I’ve been here. I’ve never had any problems that could be something as so serious. I have lost two of my sons, my only two sons and I have a daughter still living. But both my sons were ill. So I’ve lost both of them. But you know, when you’re in church, remember, you kind of understand what happens in life and you can move on. That doesn’t mean nothing bothers me but I can move on.
Charlene: So sorry for your loss.
Paulette: Bless your heart. Thank you, I appreciate that.
Charlene: You have anything else that you want to talk about?
Paulette: No, I just want to thank you for interviewing me. I want to thank Pam and all the people that are involved in this survey and this forum type in regarding public housing. I just really appreciate everything that they have put forth in this endeavor.
Charlene: Thank you so much.