When Sheri Cassidy’s 86-year-old mother first moved into a Waynesville Housing Authority apartment, she was filled with questions.

The sheer filth of the apartment, a condition management said passed their approval, was a concern but she said it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cleaned with a lot of elbow grease and a small investment.

It was a complex-wide bathroom renovation project that sparked Cassidy’s compassion for the elderly.

She watched as a Porta John was placed in front of a resident’s apartment — one that remained for weeks as the work took place. She started asking questions.

How can somebody do without a bathroom for a month or more? How safe is it to go outside at night to use the restroom? What about bathing?

Then there were complaints about some of the homeless individuals in the area who learned of the Porta John’s presence and began to regularly use it.

Her questions ultimately led to management providing a key to a vacant unit at one end of the L-shaped complex, something that would be of no use to her mother.

Cassidy’s mother, Norma Claffey, is on oxygen, uses a walker and needs to use the restroom multiple times during the night. Using the vacant apartment simply wasn’t an alternative.

She decided her mother would move in with her during the expected two-week renovation period, but started asking more questions. Could the authority that operates under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines realistically expect residents to live so primitively during renovations? Shouldn’t there be an offer to put the resident up in a motel during the renovation process, or at least give them a credit for the time they have been inconvenienced?

Her questions branded her a trouble-maker, she said, alleging that Waynesville Housing Authority Manager Randy Janes told her to move her mother elsewhere if she didn’t like the way the units were managed.

Janes was unable to be reached for comment.

Cassidy said she learned of a resident advisory meeting and attended. It was at that meeting that complaints about the Porta John being used by homeless residents in the area were discussed. The answer was to to put a lock on it and only give the unit where it was positioned the key.

That raised yet another question. Could they expect an elderly or disabled person to not only go outside at night, but fumble with a key in the dark?

Janes’s behavior, which she called belligerent, plus his refusal to discuss the issue regarding the Porta Johns any further, sent her on a mission to find answers.

Who’s in charge?Her first call was to the town of Waynesville, only to learn the authority is an autonomous body under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development with full authority to provide safe and sanitary housing for the low income, elderly, disabled and handicapped citizens of the town.

The town has no power to govern the authority in any way, including its management, its finances or its debt. There is one point of leverage, however.

It is the Waynesville mayor who appoints members to the housing authority’s governing board. Under the by-laws, the board must be between five and 11 members, with at least one representative who is directly assisted by the public housing authority. Members serve five-year terms.

Upon learning this, Cassidy next contacted the health and human services department, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer and several Waynesville Housing Authority board members, including the board chairman.

“Everyone I spoke to was shocked that a Porta John was being used by WHA residents, but no one knew how to resolve the issue,” Cassidy said. “It became very apparent to me that Mr. James effectively ‘runs’ the WHA board and that they do not or cannot manage him. I was truly appalled that one man can yield the power to negatively impact the lives of so many people without any accountability.”

It was after Cassidy’s complaints that management provided a key to an empty apartment, but that wasn’t helpful for someone who was elderly and who would have had to navigate steps with a walker in the middle of the night, she explained.

“People living here are mostly elderly and disabled,” she said. “They are afraid to speak up. If they are spending this much money to fix the bathrooms, they could have paid for a motel for each tenant.”

During her research, Cassidy learned that there would be bathroom updates to 40 units under the housing authority’s control.

“Renovations of this nature should only occur in vacant units,” she said in a letter to U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows. “The inconvenience and disruption to the lives of these residents is reprehensible and violates tenant rights.”

Waynesville Housing Authority Board Chairman Alfred Caldwell said he doesn’t hear a lot of complaints about how the authority is governed and referred questions to Janes.

“The last complaint was the first part of an April meeting when a tenant’s daughter came there,” he said. “Randy hasn’t discussed it any with me, and we talk quite a bit.”

A letter and two phone calls made to Janes’ office provided no answers and no interview.

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