The director and deputy director of the New Haven Housing Authority have been suspended amid allegations that Housing Authority staff looked at confidential government files to find out when their properties would be inspected.
The Authority’s board of commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to indefinitely suspend Director Cynthia Newton and Deputy Director Edward Schwartz with pay while the situation is being investigated. In the interim, Yale Law School professor Robert Solomon, one of five Housing Authority commissioners and a former interim director, will step up his advisory role in the organization, which develops and manages affordable housing in the city.
The Housing Authority’s director of administration, Yvonne Allen, has been named interim director. Allen’s secretary said Allen is not speaking with reporters about her appointment or the investigation.
The controversy arose when the board of commissioners internally obtained information indicating that Housing Authority staff checked confidential Department of Housing and Urban Development documents to determine when Real Estate Assessment Center property inspections would occur.
“People had advance information, and they had obtained it in what we felt was an unethical manner, and we could not permit that,” Soloman said.
Solomon said he felt the board of commissioners’ strong response sent a message that the Housing Authority does not tolerate ethical infractions. He said it was important to note that the commissioners voted to take action as soon as the alleged misconduct was discovered internally, not because of external pressure.
“We think what we did, acting quickly and suspending our top highest officials, is one way of ensuring it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We’re also going to look at codes of conduct and training, bringing in some consultants to review our existing policies.”
In his expanded role, Soloman said he will focus on providing advice on development issues, which to this point have been handled primarily by Schwartz.
New Haven Director of Public Information Derek Slap said Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was “disturbed” by the allegations but believes the board of commissioners responded appropriately.
“The mayor supports the action that the commissioners have taken and feels that when it comes to public officials, the most important currency they have is the trust of the public,” Slap said.
In the past, Newton and Schwartz have been lauded for their oversight of the Housing Authority, which is the largest entity of its kind in the state. Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, vice chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Authority Review, said in her experience working with the Authority’s directors, both have been highly capable.
“I have had nothing but fabulous relations with them,” Clark said. “Cynthia Newton has been so responsive that it’s just been extraordinary. I have been so pleased with the work that she did.”
In particular, Clark said Newton and Schwartz were quick to address any concerns raised by her constituents and were capable of effectively balancing strictness and compassion when dealing with Housing Authority tenants.
As the investigation into the alleged misconduct continues, the Housing Authority’s board of commissioners will decide on any further action. Solomon neither confirmed nor ruled out the possibility of further suspensions within the organization, saying “anything is possible.”
Newton and Schwartz could not be reached for comment.