Tina Hendrix, niece of rock legend, Jimi Hendrix, is taking the Seattle Housing Authority to court. Other SHA tenants are just as fired up and are letting the authority know about it...see below
Feyory Gbrsilassi stood before a panel of four commissioners, her belly round and high with the third child to owhom she is about to give. She pleaded to keep her housing, her soft voice cracking until tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I’m going to be homeless with my two kids and I’m pregnant now,” she told the governing board of the Seattle Housing Authority. “I don’t know tomorrow what’s going to be happening in my life.”
Gbrsilassi is an East African immigrant who lives in a house paid for largely by a federal Section 8 voucher issued by SHA, which recently terminated payments to her landlord on the grounds that her underage sister is living with her.
It’s an unfounded claim that’s quickly heading to her eviction —one of many outrages that 25 housing activists and Section 8 tenants assailed the housing authority for on June 18.
The group, led by the Tenants Union, is demanding that the housing authority change a practice the group calls a sham: When SHA kicks a resident off Section 8, federal regulations allow the tenant to request an informal hearing to challenge the termination. But tenants say the affidavits or witnesses they present don’t count, only SHA’s do, resulting in hundreds of families being made homeless over the past five years.
The Tenants Union documented the grievances in a 20-page report given to board members. The report is based on a review of five years worth of hearing decisions made by the housing authority’s sole hearing examiner, Lawrence Weldon. Tenants say he repeatedly upholds SHA’s terminations based on paperwork errors, missed meetings with SHA, rumors from landlords and evidence as flimsy as an address looked up on the Internet.
Arguments that a disability, domestic violence, or language barrier was a factor in late paperwork don’t wash with Weldon, the tenants say. He typically dismisses their arguments. Between January of 2006 and October of 2006, the Tenants Union cited 219 cases in which Weldon upheld terminations 94 percent of the time.
“I’ve never heard of a housing authority having as many hearings as they have,” says Eric Dunn, a Northwest Justice Project attorney who has sued SHA on behalf of two terminated Section 8 tenants. “I lived in Detroit for four years. If you get kicked out of Section 8 [there], you’ve got to kill someone or get caught dealing drugs. When I moved her and saw people getting vouchers yanked for missing meetings and not turning in paperwork on time, I still can’t get over that.”
Dunn and the tenants say the hearings violate the due process guaranteed tenants under HUD hearing regulations that govern SHA. In one of Dunn’s cases, a King County Superior Court judge has already ruled that the hearings don’t meet due process requirements. To correct that, the Section 8 activists are demanding SHA use impartial hearing examiners with law degrees, similar to the system used by the King County Housing Authority.
SHA Director Tom Tierney said at the June 18 hearing that the agency has already agreed to use a rotating set of hearing examiners. Tierney later said they may not be lawyers. That doesn’t go far enough for another of Dunn’s clients, Tina Hendrix, who told the board that SHA had better have a good reason to terminate people.
Hendrix—niece of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix—skipped the SHA hearing process and went straight to court after what she calls a bizarre meeting with an SHA fraud investigator who claimed she is rich. His evidence, she says, was a printout of a Seattle Times article with a photo of her in the courtroom where her father, Leon Hendrix, Jimi’s brother, lost a 2004 lawsuit against his stepsister over the $80 million Hendrix estate.
“That idiot had a picture of us losing,” Hendrix says. “I told him, ‘You’ve got the picture, but you have to read the story.’ It was so ridiculous.”
The reason SHA terminated Hendrix, however, wasn’t over her supposed wealth, but the fact that her mentally ill 16-year-old daughter had come and gone from the home and, in the meantime, Hendrix had taken in an abandoned nephew—all of which Hendrix says was duly reported to SHA.
In front of the board, Tierney said he would fix the hearing problems—reversing an earlier statement in which he said SHA would not support trial-like hearings. In a later interview, however, he said the hearing examiner already does what the tenants are demanding, which is to judge the facts and not just go along with SHA.
“A hearing is for someone to impartially look at the facts,” Tierney says. “That’s what we expect from the hearing. If there’s an appearance that we have one person who sides with us all the time, then we need to make sure we have a process that has not only true fairness in looking at the facts, but also is clearly fair to the outside public.”
By CYDNEY GILLIS, Staff Reporter