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Casa Rosa residents await aid

The upstairs toilet in Leonard Wilson’s public housing unit has been leaking off and on for seven years.

When one of his five children flushes, family members in the downstairs living room often notice liquid dripping from the ceiling.

“It (the leak) has been here since I been here,” Wilson, 46, said on Friday while pointing to cracks in his three-bedroom Casa Rosa unit’s ceiling. “They try to fix it but it just comes back.”

One day after unsanitary and unsafe living conditions including excessive water or sewer leaks prompted the North Las Vegas Housing Authority to declare an “emergency for the immediate relocation” of 21 poor families living in Casa Rosa public housing units, residents there said they still hadn’t heard anything about moving.

Wilson, who lives in one of the units identified by a North Las Vegas building inspector as having a “water/sewage” leak, said no one has spoken to him about repairing his unit, either.

He worries about the leak and a small patch of mold sprouting from the living room ceiling, especially because his fiance, who is pregnant, will be coming home soon after being hospitalized for high blood pressure. He also blames the mold for his 5-year-old son Donavon’s consistently irritated eyes.

Conditions such as those found in Wilson’s home are deplorable, North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Shari Buck said on Friday.

“It just raises questions about how a situation could have gotten that bad without the (housing authority) board members knowing,” she said. “That’s shocking to me.”

The city has ordered the housing authority to either repair or demolish many of its decades-old family units near Las Vegas Boulevard North and Owens Avenue because they are unsafe. A building inspector cited code violations in 57 of Casa Rosa’s 100 units, including failing stairways, mold and non-working smoke detectors.

Housing authority board members who spoke to the Review-Journal said they weren’t aware of the conditions until the city’s inspection.

“Nobody ever said anything, not management and not the residents,” said North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Stephanie Smith, who serves on the agency’s board. “When it’s a crisis, we hear about it.”

Four out of five of the board’s members also serve on the city council, including Smith, William Robinson, Robert Eliason and North Las Vegas Mayor Michael Montandon.

Neither Montandon nor Eliason returned calls seeking comment on Friday.

Councilman William Robinson, who chairs the housing authority’s board, said on Thursday he hadn’t known about the conditions because the agency’s administrators had been “masking” them from him.

But Buck, the only member of the city council who doesn’t also serve on the housing authority board, said board members should have known about substandard conditions years in the making.

She also wondered whether the housing agency’s director, Don England, would be held responsible for not informing the board earlier about the problems.

“Who bears responsibility for this?” Buck asked. “Who is speaking for the residents? Who is making sure they are safe?”

England did not return calls seeking comment on Friday. On Thursday, he blamed inadequate funding from the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development for the problems.

“We repair what we can repair,” he said. “You just bend until you don’t have any more to spend, and then you stop.”

City officials have acknowledged North Las Vegas may have to chip in financially for repairs, family relocation and potential demolition of the Casa Rosa units.

Buck also renewed questions she first raised years ago about the appropriateness of city council members also serving on the housing authority’s board. Issues related to the housing authority sometimes come before the city council.

HUD, which largely funds housing authorities, also has criticized the agency for the make-up of its board.

But Smith said no one else would take on the responsibility of a housing authority like North Las Vegas’s, which in recent years has had financial and administrative problems and has been labeled “troubled” by HUD. The agency also is working on a potential merger with the valley’s other two public housing authorities.

“Who are you going to get to come in right now?” Smith said. “Why would you set them up in a situation that is challenging at best?”

Smith said HUD also has targeted the North Las Vegas agency.

“It’s been made clear that HUD wants to shut us down,” she said.

But HUD officials have said repeatedly that they simply are concerned about ongoing problems at the North Las Vegas agency, and that they target housing authorities that, like North Las Vegas, are not performing well.

Smith described the housing authority’s board as caring, professional and “very involved.”

When asked whether she has been to Casa Rosa, Smith said that she has.

But “I’ve not been in the apartments,” she said. “I just found out (about the conditions), so I haven’t yet.”

She added that her “number one concern is for the residents” and that the ultimate responsibility for the conditions of the Casa Rosa units lies with the housing authority administration, not with the board.

“We don’t want to have anybody living in unsafe circumstances,” she said. “Nobody has a plan yet, and we should have been presented with a plan.”

Robinson said plans for relocating the 21 immediately affected families would be made on Monday.

The residents likely will be housed at an extended-stay hotel until repairs can be made.

The North Las Vegas Housing Authority, with a budget of about $13 million, is the smallest of the valley’s three public housing agencies, which include the Las Vegas and Clark County housing authorities.

In addition to being responsible for 220 public housing units, the North Las Vegas agency oversees about 1,400 Section 8 housing vouchers, which can be used to rent housing.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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