MANCHESTER — U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said residents of public housing should be able to have dead bolts on their doors, in spite of a prohibition in at least two New Hampshire cities.
In town to discuss New Hampshire’s progress in housing for homeless veterans, Carson answered a Union Leader reporter’s question about dead bolts, given two homicides this past summer in multi-story public housing apartment buildings. Manchester and Concord housing authorities do not allow dead bolts on apartment doors, and residents have complained.
“I know that’s not the case with all public housing,” Carson said about dead bolts. He encouraged a reporter to ask local housing authorities about the issue, since those agencies own and manage public housing properties in their cities.
“I think they should be able to have dead bolts,” Carson said.
He also said “the Second Amendment applies to all Americans” when asked if public housing residents should be able to possess firearms in their apartments. The Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority prohibits tenants from having guns in their apartments.
Carson spoke to reporters at BAE Independence Hall, the transitional housing complex operated for veterans by the Nashua-based charity Harbor Homes. He appeared with Deputy Veteran Affairs Secretary James Byrne, who termed New Hampshire a “pocket for excellence” in addressing the homeless veteran population.
The 26-unit, three-story apartment building uses dead bolts on the hallway doors of residents. It also prohibits any weapons on-site. Harbor Homes, which owns the property, is not a public housing agency. It rents units to many veterans whose apartments are funded by HUD vouchers.
In an email, the director of the MHRA said the Manchester Fire Department has recommended an alternative to a dead bolt, and MHRA is moving forward with installation.
“They have suggested a swing safety latch which provides the needed security but that the fire department can more readily remove in the event of an emergency,” MHRA Director Kathy Naczas said in an email.
She also said the MHRA has contracted with Manchester police to provide two special after-hours detail officers. The housing authority has hired security guards for weekends.
She said the housing authority has held no discussions about easing its prohibition of weapons.
In July, Jennifer Burpee died when her estranged boyfriend, self-described Nazi Damien Seace, entered her MHRA Pariseau high-rise apartment on the West Side and allegedly beat her to death with a piece of furniture.
Moments before she died, a frantic Burpee called police to say that Seace was pounding on her door.
Later that month, a resident of a Concord Housing Authority building, Marshall J. Villeneuve, was killed in his apartment. That death, however, did not appear to involve someone breaking in Villeneuve’s door.
A telephone message left with the director of the Concord Housing Authority was not returned.
In his prepared remarks, Carson said New Hampshire saw a 21% decline in homeless veterans over the previous year. The Manchester decline was even steeper at 32%.
Nationally, the number of homeless veterans fell 2 percent from the previous year. It is down nearly 50 percent over the last 10 years.
Carson said the key to success appears to be providing both housing and support services in tandem.
“When you combine those things it has a very, very positive effect,” Carson said.
One of the Independence Hall residents, Army veteran John Moffett, said he served in Iraq for three years but had trouble finding a steady job when he returned to civilian life. He was living in a tent in Gonic before moving into his apartment three months ago.
“It’s not bad,” he said, “You meet people here. They keep to themselves.”