A week after his organization threatened an 83-year-old tenant with ouster unless she removed the trees outside her apartment, the head of the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority says it was all a mistake that happened without his knowledge.
Ed Romero, executive director of the housing authority, a publicly funded regional agency that provides low-income rental housing in several counties, hand-delivered a letter of apology to tenant Sharon Kelley.
“I am very sorry for the actions taken last Friday by Monarch’s Villa Alegre manager in the process of extending your lease,” Romero wrote to Kelley.
Romero said he told the property manager, James Edwards, they would renew Kelley’s lease, which expires this month. Romero said he also asked Edwards to inform Kelley that her trees needed to be trimmed or removed for her apartment to pass inspection with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Despite my specific instructions this did not happen. We are currently in the process of determining how and why this relatively simple instruction was ignored and you received a letter that was so offensive,” Romero stated. “At the end of the day I am the responsible party and once again apologize.”
Kelley wants to continue living at the Villa Alegre Apartments off West Alameda Street. But, she said, she did not believe Romero’s explanation that Edwards alone was responsible for the directive giving her seven days to remove the trees or face punitive action.
“I said, ‘Ed, you signed off on this,’ ” Kelley stated.
Edwards, the on-site property manager, posted a written directive on Kelley’s door as the long Labor Day weekend began. He described it as a collective decision with Romero’s office.
“Villa Alegre Management and Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority have agreed to postpone signing your new rental agreement until you have removed the trees, bushes etc. from your back patio that you planted by altering the weed barrier without previous permission from management,” Edwards wrote.
I called Edwards for comment on Romero’s statement that he was supposed to offer Kelley a lease extension but failed to do so. Edwards did not respond.
Romero at first claimed no one ordered Kelley to uproot her five Australian pines and two Arizona cypress trees.
“The letter says ‘have removed or trim the trees,’ ” Romero wrote in an email to me.
Not so. The directive never mentioned trimming the trees as an acceptable alternative.
Kelley already hires workers to prune her trees twice a year. She said this is no secret, as she has had the trees since 2012.
In his email to me, Romero continued: “Upon confirming that the resident would trim the trees in question an agreement to allow the trees to stay was reached. I would also point out that the consent was achieved before I became aware of the original letter. I was out on personal leave Friday and out of phone/internet coverage all weekend.”
At least part of what Romero described never happened.
After issuing the written directive, Edwards never told Kelley she could keep the trees if she had them trimmed.
Panicked by the prospect of eviction, Kelley hired a crew to remove her trees.
The workers arrived early Tuesday. They had already uprooted a tall cypress when Edwards ran to Kelley’s apartment to tell them to stop. He said she didn’t have to remove the trees after all.
Kelley was shocked but elated. A master gardener, she prizes the trees. They provide her with privacy and protection. Her patio door is only feet from the children’s playground at the apartment complex.
Why did Edwards abruptly announce that Kelley could keep her trees?
Kelley said Romero backed down for fear of negative publicity.
I had left a message for Romero asking about Kelley’s lease and the edict to uproot her trees. About 30 minutes later, Edwards raced to Kelley’s apartment and told the tree-removal team to stand down.
Kelley is one of several senior residents of the complex who say they have been harassed by management. She alone has decided to attach her name to criticisms of Romero and Edwards.
“Most of us being affected by all this outrage are in our 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s,” Kelley said. “All we want is to be able to live in peace. And most, like myself, have no peace or a place to go.”
In his letter of apology, Romero said he wants Kelley to stay. To make sure her lease renewal goes smoothly, Romero said, he or a member of his staff will be present during her meeting with the property manager.
Kelley on Thursday still sought advice from attorney Daniel O’Friel, though she has little money to pay for representation.
“Ed Romero has his hands full,” O’Friel said after meeting Kelley.
Kelley has lived on edge for months. She said notices from management to inspect her apartment were commonplace before she was ordered to uproot her trees.
But on this day, her mood brightened.
She calls herself a fighter. Now, she said, she’s not alone in her corner.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.