Tue September 06, 2022

By Jeff Smithpeters

Trash bags, rubbish pick-up become points of contention between City of Hope and Hope Housing Authority

The regular meeting of the Hope Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners, at which the City of Hope's Sanitation policies were discussed August 18.

How tenants of government-subsidized housing receive their trash bags from the Hope Sanitation Department, and whether tenants are having their rubbish picked up have been the subjects of extensive correspondence between the city of Hope’s leaders and the Housing Authority since April of this year.

Item seven on the Hope City Board’s agenda for its regular meeting tonight is titled “DISCUSSION RE CURRENT SANITATION POLICIES.”

While a resolution of whether the city would provide rubbish pickup to Housing Authority residents seemed to have been reached as of Wednesday August 17, a mutual understanding regarding trash bag delivery has not. Meanwhile, a Housing Authority official says the city has gone back on its deal regarding rubbish pickup.

Hope City Ordinance 1262 defines rubbish as “Waste paper, cartons, boxes, wood, tree branches, yard trimmings, furniture, appliances, metals, cans, glass crockery, dunnage and similar materials.” The ordinance specifies “City collectors will remove properly prepared residential trash from the curbside only.” On August 31, when a Housing Authority tenant called Hope Sanitation Department Superintendent Nathaniel Holyfield about picking up a rubbish pile in the Mockingbird complex, she was told “We don’t pick up inside of the housing addition.”

That afternoon, the Housing Authority’s Assistant Executive Director Zach Hicks and Hope City Manager Catherine Cook exchanged emails about this refusal that were carbon copied to each member of the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners as well as its Executive Director Leola Graves and Housing and Urban Development Portfolio Specialist Jeannie R. Owens who works at HUD’s Little Rock field office. Hicks said the city was in breach of an agreement it had made August 17 to pick up Housing Authority tenants’ rubbish.

In Cook’s reply she wrote that the Sanitation Department Superintendent Nathaniel Holyfield found that the rubbish was not set on the city street but remained on Housing Authority property. She advised it be moved to either “the street right of way on W. 7th or on Mockingbird St., whichever is more convenient for the HHA, and I will instruct the Sanitation Department personnel to make a special run and pick them up tomorrow,” which was Thursday, September 1.

Hicks said the rubbish has not been picked up, but neither has it been moved to the locations Cook specified due to its being so large. In addition, he pointed out this afternoon by email, after being shown a draft of this article, that Ordinance 1262 makes clear trash and rubbish are to be picked up at curbside, not streetside:

“It would be over 300 ft for tenants at Mockingbird Circle and 7 Circle to get items streetside. Also, consider the elderly and special needs people at Kelly Homes. It would be a burden for them to get rubbish to Hazel or Laurel St. All while their trash cans are emptied twice a week. The trash truck goes into each complex. Certainly, no one else who pays $18.80 per month is expected to walk those items over 300ft to the street.”

In a Friday phone call, he characterized the incident of Holyfield’s refusal to pick up rubbish in the Mockingbird complex as the latest in a series of ways Hope’s Sanitation Department is trying to get out of providing the same level of service to Housing Authority tenants as it does to other Hope citizens. 

As for the city’s insistence the equipment used to pick up rubbish cannot be brought closer to the rubbish pile because of the potential of it doing damage to property, Hicks responds that the size of the truck that would be used is not significantly larger than trash pickup vehicles that regularly dispose of trash cans in the locality in question.

Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Discussion

The distribution of trash bags was on the agenda at the Hope Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday, August 18 at the Authority’s headquarters on 720 Texas Street. The difference between the Housing Authority’s preferred method of distribution and the city’s had generated correspondence between the Authority and City since April 5.

The five commissioners each agreed with the Authority’s Executive and Assistant Directors that the status quo on bag pickup will need to change to fulfill the terms of a 1963 cooperation agreement with the city of Hope.

Reporting to the commissioners, Hicks and Executive Director Leola Graves said tenants of the Housing Authority were complaining of not receiving their twice-a-year allotment of trash bags their payment of bills to the City of Hope’s sanitation department entitles them to. Tenants are being told, according to the complaints, to come pick up the bags at the 1603 West Third Street Public Works location but were still being refused bags once they got there.

Indeed, the materials sent by Hicks and Graves in an email to the commissioners prior to the August 18 meeting included a recording taken by a Housing Authority tenant which seems to be of an unsuccessful attempt to pick up trash bags at the West Third location on August 15. The tenant asks for her bags and states her name. Then the unknown attendant there asks for $7.50. The resident specifies her name, then is told by the attendant, “We’re not giving [bags] out to the Housing Authority. They are supposed to come down here and pick them up for y’all.”

“They told us we would have to come here and get them,” the tenant says.

“Sorry,” the attendant says.

“Thank you.”

“Have a blessed day.”

At the August 18 meeting at the Housing Authority’s office, The Hope Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Chairman, Clifford Knowles, introduced the agenda item referring to the problem of bag distribution and stated his position on the matter. “We’ve had a lot of communication going round and round at the Housing Authority and the City of Hope, and everybody has their opinions. But I think, I feel in my heart, we’re in the right. I know this is something the city doesn’t want to see or hear, but I feel that what we’re doing is protecting our rights.”

Knowles added that he felt the Housing Authority, which chose Hope as its location in the early 60s, as a job-creating and housing-providing entity should be treated similarly to corporations and other agencies who choose to locate in the town.

Vice Chairman Kim Hollis then asked for a summary of the conversations being had between the Authority and the city of Hope. Hicks said he thought progress had been made in a conference call he had been on with Hope’s city manager Catherine Cook and attorney Jim Jackson Wednesday August 17. Jackson was not retained by the Authority but, Hicks said, was acting in its interest. The recording of that call has also been made available to SWARK.Today. It matches Hicks’ account to the commissioners.

“The city has notified us that they would be willing to allow the tenants [from the Housing Authority] to pick up the bags at the city shop,” Hicks said. “As for the other public services [rubbish collection] that were in question, they fully committed to providing those in equal measure to what they’ve done for other residents in the city. We’re still not getting a commitment from the city on delivering bags to Housing Authority residents.” Hicks added that at the end of the call he had told Jackson he would be getting feedback from the board on the matter and reporting back to the city.

Hicks then referred the commissioners to an item in the packet of documents provided to them, an April 1963 cooperation agreement between the city of Hope and the Housing Authority that on the third page, said Hicks, “mentions what we’re entitled to.” Hicks then read the paragraph he had highlighted on the copy given to commissioners:

“The Municipality without cost or charge to the Local Authority or the tenants of such Project (other than the payments in Lieu of Taxes) shall:

Furnish or cause to be furnished to the Local Authority and the tenants of such Project public services and facilities of the same character and to the same extent as are furnished from time to time without cost or charge to other dwellings and inhabitants in the Municipality.”

(When asked whether the city was relying on the “cause to be furnished” clause to justify its position that the Housing Authority should pick up the trash bags and be responsible for distributing them.” Hicks said in an interview Friday the “cause to be furnished” clause does not alter the meaning of the ensuing phrase “of the same character and to the same extent.”)

Hicks said the cooperation agreement was then signed by then Mayor Frank Douglas and then Chairman of the Housing Authority Board Mike Kelly. “I feel like we’re still making a concession to the city by them only allowing tenants to come pick them [the bags] up,” Hicks said. “Our primary concern there is that we have elderly tenants, we have tenants that are not physically going to be able to get to the shop to pick up those bags. So a portion of our tenants is not being served equitably based on that. We need to talk with the city some more to make sure those things are being addressed.”

Commissioner Rebekah Moore asked whether there had been agreements since the April 1963 document between the city and the Housing Authority allowing for bags to be picked up by someone from the Authority and then distributed to its tenants.

Hicks said, “That’s how it’s been done in the past, based on their [the city’s] version of how it should be handled, based on their not delivering to apartment complexes and expecting [apartment complex] managers to do that. But once we went back to the original documents we found that, while that may pertain to current apartment complexes that are a little more modern, it doesn’t apply to the Housing Authority.”

Hicks said that the tenants of apartment complexes pay no fees for sanitation, instead using dumpsters provided by the property owners but that Housing Authority tenants pay $18.80 a month for sanitation services. “So we feel still, based on the language in this document, they're still entitled to equitable service of the same extent and that have the same character as everybody else. And we know that will be helpful to our elderly and our special needs residents,” Hicks said.

Commissioner Connie Jefferson commented that since Housing Authority tenants “pay the same as everybody else, wouldn’t it be fair for them [the city of Hope] to just throw us a trash bag?” She asked, if sanitation trucks were already delivering bags to Hope residents, why couldn’t they deliver to Housing Authority tenants.

Hicks replied that the “excuse” he heard from the city was that bags weren’t be delivered by truck to avoid them being stolen. “And I told them the Housing Authority is no more susceptible to theft on their side of the street as private property would be on their side of the street,” he said.

City Manager Cook, reported Hicks, had agreed during the Wednesday August 17 conference call to allow tenants from the Housing Authority to pick up their bags from the city’s Sanitation Department on West Third. But as of August 18, Hicks said, “Some people can get their bags, whereas last fall, nobody got their bags.” Hicks told the commissioners that a pickup arrangement at the Sanitation Department still was not sufficiently equitable for all the Housing Authority’s tenants.

As for the city delivering the bags to the Housing Authority office, Hicks said this still would not be satisfactory. “The Housing Authority really shouldn’t have to be involved with distributing bags,” which requires storage for the bags at the Housing Authority.

Concerning rubbish pick up, Hicks said in the past the city was not picking up mattresses and larger items and expected the Housing Authority to pick them up and transfer them to the city landfill, then charge the tenant for the fees the Authority paid to the city for both pickup and use of the landfill. “So as of that call [Wednesday, August 17], they [the Housing Authority] won’t be exposed to that expense anymore. So they’re providing that service in full and they’re providing the rubbish service in full. Now we just need the trash bags.”

The commissioners each expressed support for Hicks and Executive Director Graves to continue work negotiating with the city on behalf of Housing Authority tenants. They also expressed gratitude the April 1963 agreement document had been found.

City Manager Comments

City Manager Cook, addressing the matter of the unpicked up rubbish at the Mockingbird Complex, said the items had not been picked up because of their placement inside the complex rather than on city property alongside curbs.

She said the city’s policy regarding distribution of trash bags to Housing Authority tenants did not differ from its policy regarding how apartment dwellers get their bags, by picking them up from the respective property managers who themselves pick up the bags from the city. About 864 addresses currently receive their allotted trash bags this way and have been doing so for years, Cook said.

The policy of providing the bags to property managers, Cook said, has its advantages. “For the most part, the management of the complexes, they know which apartments are occupied, and which apartments are not occupied. So from that perspective, we're not putting out bags at places that are not occupied, and are not customers of the City of Hope” She said, “if we just throw them out or not throw them out there, just place them at the doors in a lot of the areas where it's not house-to-house where there's not a separation they may or may not ever get the garbage bags that are there.”

Cook said she did not know why the Housing Authority decided as of April to insist that the city  deliver rolls of bags to each of its tenants individually. “But I do understand perspectives change, understanding changes. And people can have misunderstandings that we have to work as professionals to resolve for the good of the Housing Authority tenants and the citizens of Hope.”

As of today, no agreement has been reached between the city and the Housing Authority on the distribution of trash bags. Cook noted, upon seeing a draft of this article today, that the City remains committed to cooperatively working out the problem with the Hope Housing Authority.

The Hope City Board will meet at 7:00 p.m. tonight at City Hall.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, the conference call between Jim Jackson, attorney advocating for the Housing Authority, and City of Hope officials, including Citry Director Catherine Cooke was referred to as taking place Monday, August 15. It instead took place Wednesday August 17. SWARK.Today regets the error.