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Disabled tenant: DCHA ‘retaliates’ for HUD protest

(Published July 16, 2001)

By JOHN DeVAULT

Staff Writer

The D.C. Housing Authority wants to evict Horizon House Resident Council President Harry Winter and his live-in health aide, Evette Tippett, shown above, in what they say is an act of retaliation for their complaints about the agency’s alleged mismanagement.

A medically disabled 75-year-old public housing activist and his live-in aide are being threatened with eviction from a city-operated senior residence in what they and their attorney describe as retaliation for outspoken criticism of the District’s public housing agency.

Harry Winter, president of the resident council at Horizon House Apartments on 12th Street NW near Thomas Circle, said that a week after he and the live-in aide, Evette Tippett, participated in a June 22 public protest against D.C. Housing Authority policies, a DCHA official ordered him to fire Tippett and ask her to leave Horizon House.

Winter said that when he refused, the head of the housing authority’s Rock Creek region, which includes Horizon House, ordered that Winter himself be served with a 30-day eviction notice. He identified the DCHA official involved as Janice Gleaton. Gleaton could not be reached for comment.

"They want us out of here, and they’ll use anything they can to do it," Winter said. "But I don’t believe a judge will evict us, because we haven’t done anything wrong."

A housing authority spokesman confirmed that the agency ordered Winter to discharge Tippett.

"He can have a live-in aide, but he can’t have this one," said DCHA spokesman Arthur Jones.

Jones also confirmed that a notice to Winter to vacate his apartment within 30 days "has already gone out or soon will. They may be delivering it as we speak," he said.

According to an affidavit filed with DCHA by Dr. Marshall Balish, Winter’s doctor at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Winter suffers from "coronary artery disease (heart condition)," as well as diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea, which requires Winter to breathe with the help of a machine while sleeping.

"(E)ven upon walking a short distance (Mr. Winter) gets short of breath and/or develops chest pain," Balish’s affidavit says. "Mr. Winter requires an attendant 24 hours a day to help with his activities of daily living."

When informed of DCHA’s attempt to evict Winter, Balish told The Common Denominator that the impact on his patient’s health "has to be negative."

"Will this cause him to have a heart attack? It could. It could certainly be a contributing factor," Balish said. "This is pretty low of the housing authority."

Winter said that Gleaton explicitly cited Tippett’s role in arranging bus transportation for public housing residents to attend the June 22 protest rally as a justification for demanding Tippett’s ouster.

"She waved a copy of the fax that Evette sent to arrange for the bus and said that this was the final straw," said Winter.

Tippett said that after conferring with Winter and Carl Messineo, an attorney representing her and Winter, she had decided that she should not leave.

"I just feel as though I’m not doing anything to hurt anyone," Tippett said. "I’m just trying to inform residents of their rights, and make sure their money is spent correctly."

The protest, held outside the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters on Seventh Street SW, was organized by a coalition of public housing activists, including Winter and Tippett, to publicize an attempt by residents of the Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg Dwellings to oust DCHA as the manager of those adjacent complexes in Southeast Washington. The residents, citing "gross mismanagement" by city housing officials, are appealing to HUD to replace the D.C. agency with a resident-run corporation to manage the complexes.

Earlier this year, Tippett and Winter gathered signatures from Horizon House residents in support of a similar transfer of management at Horizon House. That action is pending. The pair went on to advise the Arthur Capper-Carrollsburg group on their management transfer effort.

In addition, both Winter and Tippett – who in addition to providing Winter with health-related care also helps with daily tasks like shopping and aids Winter in running the Horizon House resident council office – have a long history of whistle-blowing and advocacy for public housing residents.

Last year, the pair’s complaints led to an investigation by a HUD inspector general that blamed DCHA and local HUD officials for $144,000 in misspent federal funds at seven D.C. public housing complexes. Later, Winter said, some of the officials reprimanded by the inspector general in that case accused him of misappropriating $800 in resident council funds for an out-of-town trip to a grant-writing workshop. Winter called the accusation a smear and sued HUD’s D.C. Field Office to get reimbursed for the trip. That lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court.

"That’s the beginning of a lot of this stuff," Winter said.

Also last year, DCHA briefly sought to evict Tippett, in a move apparently related to her activism.

"There’s no question that they want Ms. Tippett out, because she and Harry work very well together as a team. He’s the president of the resident council, and she’s been very active in encouraging resident participation," attorney Messineo said.

At the heart of the current eviction battle is a contested "memorandum of understanding and agreement," which both sides say supports their view of the matter.

The memorandum is a one-page document, dated April 1, covering eight points that together seek to limit Tippett’s activities at Horizon House to providing nighttime health-related aid to Winter.

DCHA spokesman Jones described the memorandum as an addendum to Winter’s lease and cited one section as justification for Tippett’s removal. That paragraph specifies that Winter "will ensure that his live-in aide does not disturb the residents in the building nor engage in solicitation at the above-stated building."

Jones declined to say what Tippett had done to violate those terms. "That’s something that we’ll take up in court," he said.

Messineo scoffed at Jones’ citation. "Did they say she’s selling home products? Avon?" he asked sarcastically. "Or is it, rather, that she’s talking to residents about the exercise of their rights? It’s the stated policy of HUD to encourage tenant participation."

On another point of contention, Winter acknowledges that he signed the memorandum, but he claims that he was coerced to do so.

"Ms. Gleaton said, ‘You sign this, or if you don’t sign this, we’ll put Evette out immediately,’" Winter said. "(The memorandum) was pushed on me, signed under duress, but it was that or see her put out on the street that night. But that’s how they operate."

Jones denied that Winter was coerced to sign the memorandum. "He signed it of his own free will," he said.

Messineo said that sections of the memorandum itself belie DCHA’s claim that Winter freely signed the document. In apparent contradiction of Dr. Balish’s affidavit to DCHA saying that Winter "requires an attendant 24 hours a day," part of the memorandum asks Winter to affirm that "Mr. Winter does not require the services of a live-in aide during the day (and) that Mr. Winter has not provided the DCHA with any medical certification of the necessity of such services."

"If you’re signing an obviously false document under the threat of someone’s eviction, that’s obviously not free will," Messineo said.

Jones cited the memorandum as proof that the effort to evict Winter and Tippett is not retaliation for their participation in the June 22 HUD rally. "We’re moving on (Winter) for violations of the memorandum," he said. "And the memorandum precedes the action at HUD by more than two months."

But Messineo says the eviction "is clearly a response to their activism, as shown by the close proximity in time between the HUD rally and the eviction notice." He said his clients "have long spoken out in the interest of the tenants, to the great distress of the housing authority."

"Now the agency is showing that if you challenge them, they’ll use their power to render people homeless," Messineo said.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator