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PHA Leadership Apologizes For Communication Lapse On Taft Security Procedures

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Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
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The Peoria Housing Authority's leadership is pledging better communication with residents after closure of the Taft Homes gates and a bolstered private security presence caused confusion and alarm over the weekend.Residents, their relatives, and those doing business were permitted to enter or leave through the closed front gates in their vehicles over the long holiday weekend. But the Taft Homes were closed off to other vehicular traffic.

Guards from the private firm Pinnacle Security were posted at the gates.

Those measures led to an uproar on social media from residents and others about a "lockdown."

Board chairman Carl Cannon said Monday at the board's virtual meeting that the added security procedures over the July 4 holiday weekend were adopted in 2012 after successive outbreaks of unrest at the public housing complex.

PHA Executive Director Jackie Newman publicly apologized to both public housing residents and the board for a "gap in communication" about the security procedures.

"We did get communication out, but we got communication out late as it relates to just what has traditionally been done over the past in terms of an increased presence at our Taft development and our Harrison development," Newman said.

Bollards also were recently erected across Oregon Street at the Harrison Homes in an effort to limit vehicular traffic.

Cannon said the board has an obligation to provide "safe, affordable housing" and won't apologize for putting safety first. However, he apologized repeatedly to residents taken off-guard by the security measures, and promised better communication about the policies in the future.

"Talk is cheap. Watch us do our walk from this point forward. And not just at Taft. All of Peoria Housing Authority," he said.

Several members of the public spoke out about the weekend situation during the board's public input session.

Hedy Elliott, a teacher who's worked with public housing residents for decades, said she was making her usual fresh food deliveries to the Taft Homes on Friday when she learned of the situation. She said the residents she spoke to didn't know what was going on, and they deserve better.

"They should be informed. I don't walk out of my home and have a barricade up. I don't walk out of my home and have a gate locked when I'm trying to drive out," she said. "And I just think the residents should be treated like any other resident in Peoria. Any middle-class, upper-middle class citizen. They're good people."

Peoria mayoral candidate Chama St. Louis said the PHA should make a greater effort to talk to residents about how to make them feel safer, versus making the decisions in a board room.

"I don't think that anyone did anything to be malicious, right? But this is the perception of how it came across," she said. "And I'm thinking to eliminate that in the future, having people who actually live in those communities talk to you about what makes them feel safe would be a better way."

In an effort to improve those lines of communication, staff was asked Monday to set up a virtual meeting with public housing residents before the next PHA board meeting to replace the usual resident meeting canceled for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannon also said he'd like to restart the PHA's regular on-site meetings with residents again in August, if possible.

Cannon said all security staff also will receive implicit bias training in the immediate future. The training will be available to all PHA staff.

"That's one of those steps we're going to take to make sure we're lined up with the community," he said.

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