The Benefits of Speakers
by Terence Page

Julia Cantwell, a 62-year-old member of the Greater New York Council of the Blind, has lived in the Fredrick Douglas Houses since the late 50’s.  For years Ms. Cantwell has been struggling to get minor and major repairs made in their aging apartment. She has been dodging falling ceiling tiles and a landmine of broken tiles in the living room for five years. The damage to their ceiling and floor was caused by a water leak from a shower in the apartment next door. The building management did finally repair the pipe and wall, but not the tiles. Ms. Cantwell was looking at a holiday season with an oven that hadn’t worked in two years.  Due to the age of the Fredrick Douglas Houses, the apartment has asbestos. Ms. Cantwell explains that her floor tiles haven’t been repaired because of contract negotiations with asbestos removers.

At our November 7 meeting, Sam Miller, a representative of HUD (Housing and Urban Development), was the guest speaker. Mr. Miller introduced himself with a brief history and a list of accomplishments, then he began to describe the duties of his office. “HUD does not manage buildings contrary to what most people believe; we manage the budget for government housing in the United States. There are some minor duties such as mediating mortgages for public and private homes, but our primary focus is housing discrimination and managing of building sites.” Ms. Cantwell happened to be in the audience and mentioned her issues with her apartment. Mr. Miller advised her that he would look into the matter if she called him during business hours. Mr. Miller distributed literature to the group and business cards that were not accessible, but his information was entered into the minutes of the meeting. Ms. Cantwell contacted Mr. Miller that following week.

By December 21, most of the repairs in Ms. Cantwell’s apartment had been made. “There was a window that we could never keep open. The ceiling tiles were replaced and even the oven was fixed.  It was a nice Christmas present.”