IHA leaders defend public housing agency

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - With their operation under federal review, complaints from their residents climbing, a crime rate that’s going up and Mayor Hogsett announcing he will “overhaul” the leadership team, top brass from the Indiana Housing Agency briefed reporters Monday on corrective steps the public housing entity is taking to responsibly shelter 22,000 Marion County residents at a cost of $65 million per year.

Interim Executive Director Jennifer Green presided over the more-than-hour-long meeting in a room under scrutiny of IHA surveillance cameras, but off-limits to recording by reporters.

In a wide ranging discussion, Green blamed the 25-28% rise in crime across IHA properties on the city’s general crime rate, which was actually down ten percent in 2017.

Green intends to sit down with IMPD Chief Bryan Roach Wednesday morning to determine how on-duty officers can augment off-duty police who work for IHA and IHA’s small police force in protecting its more than a dozen apartment communities.

Green blamed the rise in crime on domestic disputes, vandalism and so-called cell phone robberies when two parties come together to consummate a property sale, which can turn into a robbery.

IMPD reports indicate there have been 31 robberies reported thus far this year in IHA properties, compared to 13 for all of 2017.

Green said IHA’s compliance with Housing and Urban Development’s rollback of the “One Strike Rule” stifled her agency’s ability to remove dangerous residents from public housing properties.

Asset Management Director Duane Ingram rejected the argument that IHA might apply an administrative response to better identify and remove troubled residents from its properties.

71 of IHA’s 422 surveillance cameras are inoperable, but contracts are being considered to begin immediate repairs and provide an ongoing maintenance program.

Green said she, “just became aware,” of the public safety issues at IHA and steps to correct those problems, “should have been dealt with before.”

She refused to blame former longtime Executive Director Bud Myers, who abruptly stepped down in late August, for the agency’s issues.

During a walk through the Laurelwood housing community last week, residents told Mayor Joe Hogsett about their management, security and maintenance concerns.

“We are short on maintenance staff,” admitted Green, who confirmed at least five maintenance positions are open due to the retirements of veteran employees and that IHA may consider identifying high school students who could be trained and hired to fill those posts, while contractors will be called upon to perform immediate work.

The interim director said that a pair of HUD audits regarding programs and financial operations are being completed and IHA awaits feedback in order to put new corrective measures into place.

Mayor Hogsett is awaiting the results of a nationwide search for a new executive director, who could be on the job by the first quarter of next year.

The agency also is in need of a new chief operating officer and director of internal audit and compliance, leaving three key top level posts unfilled at this time.

Green said that changes to a proposed City-County Council proposal to extend all terms of the commissioners on the IHA Board until the end of 2019, thus eliminating the mayor’s ability to appoint two new members this year, will now call for the expiration of all nine appointments at the end of February. It will assure the new management team will also have a new oversight board.

Green said the mayor’s commitment to a top end shakeup does not indicate a lack of faith in IHA leadership.

IHA currently has a waiting list of almost 20,000 potential residents awaiting public housing and Section 8 voucher assistance while Green claimed the agency has a 95% occupancy rate.

Green and Ingram also defended an $1,100 outing to Top Golf in Fishers in September for IHA employees to discuss priorities and strategies for the agency.

Ingram promised to provide an agenda for that meeting and indicated he could not find a public golf course or private facility in Marion County that met the needs of the IHA management team.

Ingram said the decision to hold the meeting at Top Golf was, “not based on golf,” and Green said it was an opportunity to motivate employees while exploring agency topics.

The pair rejected an observation that IHA could have saved hundreds of taxpayer dollars by holding the meeting in the same headquarters conference room where the off-camera briefing was held and having meals catered in by local restaurants that have provided previous luncheon services at a fraction of the cost.

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