25 Investigates: Public housing tenant no longer ordered to remove cameras

25 Investigates: Public housing tenant no longer ordered to remove cameras

BOSTON - The Boston Public Housing Authority suddenly reversed course on Tuesday, telling 25 Investigates a tenant is no longer required to remove security cameras which she set up to view public areas outside of her apartment in Jamaica Plain.

The cameras were part of an eviction notice which called them an “invasion of privacy” and accused tenant, Yeris Santana, of using the cameras to threaten and harass other residents at the South Street Apartments.

Moments before a five-member grievance panel was set to hear the case against Santana, administrators offered her mediation, to avoid going to court to seek her eviction.

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“She is not required to remove the cameras. They're pointed at public areas, so there is no bar to her having cameras in public areas,” said the housing authority’s deputy administrator, Gail Livingston.

“I wasn’t intimidating anyone,” said Santana in Spanish. “I wasn’t violating the privacy of anyone. (The cameras) are simply for the security of me, my child, and my family.”

A mediator from the housing authority has now been assigned to meet with Santana and her neighbors to try to resolve any outstanding disputes.

Original Report -- 25 Investigates: Camera fight reveals public housing security gap

The Boston Public Housing Authority has added plans to install 13 security cameras at one of its developments in Jamaica Plain after 25 Investigates raised questions about a lack of cameras at that location.

The absence of security cameras at the South Street Apartments came to light in May after Yeris Santana's family contacted 25 Investigates about an eviction notice they received. The notice referenced disputes with neighbors, but also cited Santana's use of two private cameras, pointed at public areas, as an "invasion of privacy" and ordered her to "remove (the cameras) immediately."

Santana and her family say they set up the cameras, which don't record sound, to capture video of a common area and the public street outside of her apartment after someone broke into their car.

"It's not invading anyone's house, anyone's apartment. It's not invading anyone's privacy," said Santana, speaking in Spanish.

Hundreds of Cameras - None at South Street

A public records request by 25 Investigates found the Boston Public Housing Authority has nearly 500 of its own security cameras at more than 30 sites, as well as another 400 cameras installed at BHA's "redeveloped sites," which are privately managed.

But not a single one of those cameras is located at the South Street Apartments.

"We have to make choices about allocation of resources, in terms of where we spend our money," said BHA General Counsel Wilbur Commodore.

BHA's chief of staff, Lydia Agro, says the agency has spent more than $8 million on installing and maintaining its security cameras.

In the interview with Boston 25 News, the agency defended its decision to not have any cameras at South Street.

"Basically, South Street is a fairly safe development," said Commodore.

A review by 25 Investigates found Boston Police have at least two unsolved shootings at South Street in the last two years and neighbors described a variety of other problems, including one man who said he was robbed in the parking lot of the complex.

"There's no cameras there, so I can't prove it, but they robbed me," said Daniel Chaparro.

Chaparro said he also set up his own private cameras, looking out of the unit where his daughter and her mother live.

Records show BHA is also seeking to possibly evict Chaparro's family -- but not because of the cameras. Property managers accused Chaparro of yelling at a staff member about conditions in the apartment, which he says included a lack of screens on the first floor windows. BHA now says the screens have been installed and the agency "intends to offer to provide mediation" to avoid going to court.

Still Facing Eviction

Yeris Santana could still be evicted, in part, for her security cameras, which the housing authority says she used to threaten and harass other residents who complained to a manager.

Yet, when investigative reporter Eric Rasmussen asked how the angles of those cameras violated anyone's privacy, Commodore said he had not seen where the cameras were pointing until 25 Investigates showed the images to him.

"This is the first time I'm seeing this," said Commodore. "This looks like the cameras are simply pointed to the street."

When asked again about how Santana's cameras constituted an "invasion of privacy," Commodore and BHA's Chief of Staff asked to go "off the record." They later said they were unable to comment on certain specific details of the case against Santana.

A grievance hearing for Santana was scheduled for Tuesday.

Her daughter says she doesn't know where the family will go if they're forced to move out of their unit at South Street, which provides housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

New Cameras Planned

Two days after Commodore's interview with 25 Investigates, BHA says it decided it will install 13 cameras at South Street at a cost of $135,000.

The agency was already in the process of installing 81 security cameras at its West Broadway development as part of $4 million committed to cameras in its capital plan for the upcoming fiscal year.