Peter Jack is 74 years old, broke and possessed of a short fuse.
The Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority is remodeling the complex where Jack pays $101 a month to rent a publicly subsidized apartment. He says a bumbling construction crew kept cutting off the water without notice.
“I’ve been in construction all my life. I know the rules and regulations,” Jack said.
He was in the shower one day when the spigot went dry again. Jack admits he crossed a line by threatening the supervisor of the crew that’s fixing up the Villa Consuelo Apartments, 1200 Camino Consuelo.
Ed Romero, executive director of the housing authority, has a more vivid description of what Jack told the crew chief.
“He said, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ ” Romero said.
“Grossly exaggerated,” Jack said. “I did say I’d knock his head off.”
Jack estimates the man he threatened is 20 or 30 years younger than he is. Could Jack have won a physical confrontation with him?
“Quite honestly, yeah,” Jack said.
He didn’t again threaten the contractors, but they have clashed more than once.
Jack said he grew tired of the remodeling crew hogging parking spaces in the complex. He taped a message over a sign near his unit. It said parking was only for residents and their guests.
Romero’s staff was not impressed with his rule-making. It wrote up Jack for misconduct.
Jack’s threat against the contractor brought another violation notice from the housing authority.
Jack said he interpreted the second letter to be a letter of eviction. He said he was told to be out by Tuesday, despite the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t have any place to go, and I don’t have any money,” Jack said. “I’m not leaving.”
Romero said the housing authority would have to go to court to evict Jack, a step it has not taken.
“We don’t throw seniors out, but sometimes you have to threaten them to get their attention,” Romero said. “We could choose to proceed with court hearings, but we haven’t done that.”
Romero said he had planned for a member of his staff to meet with Jack this week.
“How we do that becomes a tricky thing during a pandemic,” Romero said.
The agency doesn’t want to risk exposing anyone to infection. Still, Romero said, it has to deliver a message to Jack. His threat cannot be discounted as idle.
“If he doesn’t want to be evicted, he must behave,” Romero said. “He takes it to another level. He has had a history of losing control of his temper. We’ve been through this six, eight, 10 times.”
Jack summed up his reaction in two words: “Grossly misrepresented.”
Jack said the contractors had been inconsiderate. In turn, he sank to threatening bodily harm.
His remorse has limits.
“They don’t try working with the residents whatsoever,” Jack said.
Romero’s agency last summer received heavy public criticism for telling senior tenants at another complex to remove plants and flowers outside their apartments or be hit with violations. Tenants said this was a step toward forcing them out.
The property manager ordered one woman, a master gardener, to cut down trees that buffered her unit from a playground where vagrants gathered. One stranger broke her window with a rock.
Under written threat of eviction, the woman authorized cutting of her prized trees.
Romero called it off moments after I phoned his office. The trees could stay. All they needed was a trimming, he said.
The woman later moved out of state, and the housing authority chopped down the trees.
Jack’s case is more confrontational. Romero said the housing authority intends to be reasonable with him.
“We’ve only had two or three evictions of seniors in 20 years,” Romero said. “And those were cases of younger relatives moving into to the units and then causing problems on top of it.”
Jack, an Englishman with legal immigration status, has lived in the United States for 46 years.
He says he’s promised himself to keep his emotions in check and steer clear of trouble with the housing authority. His reasons are obvious.
Jack has no interest in moving across town, much less across the pond.