Mail delivery change angers homeowners



An Arlington Heights homeowner said she is afraid of identity theft.
By SARAH POULTON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Romona Moton, a homeowner in the eight-month-old Arlington Heights development on the city's North Side, thought she had it all.
She, along with three other homeowners, live in brand-new, single-family homes, complete with backyards and front porches. They shovel their snow in the winter, water their grass in the summer and get the pleasure of decorating their homes for the holiday season. They pay utilities, insurance and a mortgage.
For most of them, she said this is the first time they have had a place of their own they can call home.
She said all of them were overjoyed with their sense of fulfillment and nothing was going to take that away from them.
What happened
That is, until mid-September, when the U.S. Postal Service discontinued mail delivery to the brand-new, porch-front mailboxes, Moton said. The post office quickly installed an unlocked, temporary version of four rural-style mailboxes attached together near the curb at the center of Park Avenue, where the residents of four homes must go to retrieve their mail, she said.
The homes are part of Hope VI, a housing grant program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that targets revitalization of obsolete or distressed public housing. Arlington Heights Homeownership Inc. is one of the projects within the Hope VI plan, which is administered by the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority to help low-income families own a home.
Eugenia Atkinson, executive director of the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority, said that during the first week of October she met with Christa Kopp, a local account manager, and George S. Brewer, manager of address management systems for the Cleveland district of USPS.
They told Atkinson that the temporary boxes will eventually be replaced with cluster box units, which are square, silver and comparable to mailboxes at apartments. The cluster box units are the preferred mail delivery option for new developments. These CBUs will be installed after the post office gets approval from YMHA and developers Ralph A. Falbo Inc. and Pennrose Properties, the Pittsburgh-based companies that built the homes.
Before the demolition of part of the Westlake Terrace Homes on the Arlington Heights property, there were almost 300 public housing units, Atkinson said. When the project is completed, she said there will be 30 single-family home-ownership units and 75 rental units. The post office used to deliver door-to-door to the public housing units, but now insists the single-family units receive their mail in a CBU. One block up from Park Avenue, residents living on Harlem Avenue must retrieve their mail from the post office on Guadalupe Avenue, because the post office is waiting for approval of the CBUs, she said.
How project is viewed
Atkinson said YMHA sees the Arlington Heights Hope VI project as not a new development, but simply the replacement of housing in an existing neighborhood. She said the post office argued that new basements make it a new development. They also said whoever decided to deliver the mail in the first place made a mistake, she added.
"It seems so unfair that a one-block isolated area is being discriminated against," Atkinson said. "I don't understand."
Atkinson said she finds it odd that existing new housing in the same community -- within one block from Arlington Heights -- receive home delivery. The homes in question were torn down and replaced five years ago, she said. There also are two other new developments in nearby townships that also receive door-to-door or curbside delivery, she said.
Atkinson wrote a letter to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, about the problem. His office told Atkinson said that they've dealt with the same problem in Akron and in different areas of Youngstown. They said they would continue to fight, but they weren't sure if they would make progress.
Moton, of 762 Park Ave., moved into her new home at the end of May. She said she didn't know why they put mailboxes on their homes if they didn't intend to use them. She added that the CBUs are unsightly, and that the new homeowners take pride in their new community.
"I feel a bit of deception," Moton said. "They told me I was a homeowner. They didn't tell me my mail would be delivered over there."
Safety concerns
Moton said she is also upset because there are no locks on their mailboxes; only doors with their house numbers, so someone could steal any of the residents' mail. She added that there was no place to install a lock on the boxes.
"That's not what we want," Moton said. "We want our mail to come to our porch or to our curbside."
Kimberly Tyson of 766 Park Ave., moved into her home the same time as Moton. Like Moton, she said the CBUs make her nervous because she has gone to get her mail and the doors on the boxes were open. She added that she is concerned about her security.
"I had convenience and security taken away from me," Tyson said. "Someone could steal my mail and my identity."
Dan Van Allen, a Postal Service spokesman, said the growth of suburban areas and dealing with a larger population forced the USPS in 1978 to ban door-to-door mail delivery for all new construction, he said. The only other option for the residents is to install permanent rural-style mailboxes, clustered together by two or three box units, he said.
"Delivery is free to consumers, but it costs money," Van Allen said.
He said the Arlington Heights residents received door-to-door delivery before October because the carrier took it upon himself to deliver the mail that way. He said that with the exception of hardship delivery, delivery to people with extreme physical hardships, it is impossible for residents to receive their mail on their front porch.
"All I can do is apologize," Van Allen said. "It was not authorized by anyone."
Developers' preference
Van Allen added that the developers favored the CBUs over rural-style mailboxes.
Cindy Piccone, project manager for Ralph A. Falbo Inc. and Pennrose Properties, said that when the architect spoke with the post office before finalizing construction plans, they were told that door-to-door delivery would be acceptable. The post office then contacted them in September to say that the residents would no longer receive door-to-door delivery.
"When you have an urban development, like Arlington Heights, where elsewhere in the area is getting door delivery, the post office will usually provide it for the new residents," Piccone said.
She said she knows of two other urban developments constructed in the past five years that receive door-to-door delivery. Residents of Centennial Place off state Route 60 in Farrell, Pa., which is a fairly new development of single-family houses constructed after public housing units were demolished, is just one example, she said.

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