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Athens public housing residents complain of intimidation tactics

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Federal and local officials are investigating allegations that housing authority personnel are intimidating residents at Houston Court Apartments.

Adam Muhlendorf, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, said Tuesday that Cramer's office has received the complaints and "is looking into it."

He would not specify how Cramer's office is investigating.

Athens Mayor Dan Williams said Tuesday that he, too, has received complaints.

The Athens Housing Authority operates public housing at Houston Court, Higgins Court, and at Roberts, Sanderfer Road and Fifth Avenue apartments.

Williams said he thinks the complaints stem from the city's Housing Authority Board hiring new administrators, who have made changes, such as increasing the pet deposit fee. He said residents get upset whenever there are changes in policy regarding having pets or flowers, or there is an increase in rent because of Social Security benefits increasing.

"And some people don't like change," the mayor said. "I've sent the complaints I received to the board because they can investigate and see if there is anything to it. I don't think there's been any physical abuse, but one lady says residents have been intimidated. Other than that, I have not gotten any reports of mistreatment."

Williams appoints the board members, who serve staggered terms.

Board member Charlet Jones said Tuesday that she has not yet read the mayor's letter, which includes the complaints, and she could not comment about them. Jones did say she has not received any prior complaints of abuse or intimidation.

Athens police Capt. Marty Bruce said the department has not received any complaints of abuse or intimidation.

Dollie Gull-Goldman, the Houston Court resident who complained to Williams and Cramer's office, sent an e-mail to The Daily that said the federal Housing and Urban Development is investigating.

Information from HUD was not immediately available, and Cramer's spokesman would not say if Cramer referred HUD to the situation.

In a phone interview, Gull-Goldman said most residents are too scared to complain for fear they will lose their homes.

She said authority personnel allegedly have gone door-to-door demanding residents immediately sign new leases that will increase monthly rent and pay an increased pet deposit of $450. When met with objections, the personnel allegedly used abusive language and threatened eviction, she said.

Gull-Goldman said one of her neighbors has a dog who helps her walk, but the dog is not a certified service dog. This neighbor cannot afford the pet deposit, Gull-Goldman said, and was threatened with immediate eviction.

"Most of the residents here are senior citizens, and they are on fixed incomes," she said. "If she were evicted, she would be homeless."

The authority's office referred questions to T.A. Harris, who is the executive director. He was out of the office until Wednesday.

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