There’s something a little off about the Nowicki saga. I know the fashionable interpretation is that this is a heartless bureaucrat (or two) mercilessly pounding away at a man who served our country heroically in its darkest hour. But hold on.
Housing Authorities don’t serve eviction notices on a whim. It’s a huge pain in the ass to evict someone. Much easier to work out a compromise, especially over something like a rule violation.
I got some of Melinda Harvey’s side of this story. Try looking at it this way.
You’re the director of a public housing authority. Your board of commissioners instructs you to phase in a no-smoking policy. You spend 8 months getting everybody used to the idea before you enact it. It’s not even a very tough policy compared to what — for example — veterans’ facilities are doing these days. But there is a rule that you have to be ten feet away from a first floor window if you go outside to smoke. This makes a certain amount of sense. People in senior housing have all kinds of respiratory issues, so you don’t want smoke wafting in their windows.
During the 8-month run-up, some of your tenants kick about the policy. Some of them quit the habit. Some of them move, so they can keep smoking. A few try not complying. You issue warnings. Sometimes you have to seek a legal stipulation. (All of the tenants signed new leases agreeing to the new policy.) Eventually, everybody is complying except one guy.
You have a process you have to follow in a case like this. A spoken warning. A written warning. Then what’s called a Kappa Notice (which is the prelude to a Notice to Quit). Finally, the Notice to Quit. For anybody receiving these notices, you have a formal multi-step grievance process, where the tenants can meet with the authority and try to work something out. But this tenant never exercises that right.
So finally, you reach point where you’ve moved through all the preliminary steps. Not a peep out of the tenant. Meanwhile, you’ve got a whole housing complex where everybody else has either complied (sometimes unhappily) or moved out. You’re out of options. So you serve the Notice to Quit. At that point, the tenant and his family go to the press.
To whatever extent she’s being painted as a horrible person, Melinda Harvey is getting a raw deal. I have no idea of what sort of person she is, but it does seem as though the Nowicki family should bear at least some of the blame for playing a game of brinksmanship instead of sitting down with the housing authority.
And one of the arguments being offered up by the daughter and the lawyer is crazy. You should be exempted from smoking policies if you started smoking during World War II? What sense does that make?
Anybody with half a brain can figure out some compromise that helps out Andy Nowicki and respects all the other people who actually followed the rule. But to do that, he has has to sit down with them and talk about what would work for him and what wouldn’t. And he apparently never did that.
Meanwhile, Melinda Harvey has just been doing her job.