Council committee approves makeover of IHA board

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Board of Commissioners that oversees public housing in Indianapolis is due for a major makeover after the action of a City-County Council committee.

Proposal 197 was unanimously passed by the Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee and has been sent to the entire council for consideration.

The Proposal dismisses the entire Indianapolis Housing Agency Board Feb. 28 of next year to be replaced by a new nine-member board the next day.

The Board is responsible for IHA and its proposed $77 million budget next year that will provide housing for 22,000 low income residents of Marion County.

For several months, CBS4 has reported on the rising crime rates, plummeting unit occupancy numbers, delayed maintenance and scathing federal and state operational and financial audits plaguing the agency.

Following the abrupt departure of longtime Executive Director Rufus Bud Myers in late August, in the wake of two audits, Mayor Joe Hogsett launched a search for new leadership at IHA.

“I’m very concerned about the leadership,” said Hogsett, “the fact that we’re in transition, we’re engaged currently in a nationwide search to bring in a new CEO of the Indianapolis Housing Agency. We also need to fill the chief financial officer position as well.”

Hogsett also awaits an audit report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development Quality Assurance Division regarding IHA’s administration of its Section 8 program that provides housing for 18,000 residents.

“Once I have the opportunity to review HUD’s assessment, I intend to thoughtfully consider their recommendations and make decisions accordingly. If a more comprehensive approach is needed, I’m open to that, but right now we’re making sure that (IHA) is as well managed in the interim while we make these important decisions about future leadership over the course of the next couple of months.”

The mayor has reportedly received a letter from HUD that indicates a range of actions, up to and including the federal takeover of IHA, in order to right the agency.

“I haven’t been directly engaged by HUD as it relates to what they intend,” said Hogsett. “I hope that at some point in time we would have those kinds of conversations and if more radical changes need to be made, as mayor, I’m prepared to make them because I want what is in the best interest of not only of the people who are served by the Indianapolis Housing Agency but by everyone in the city who has a vested interest in providing quality affordable housing for all Indianapolis residents.”

IHA claims there are 153,000 people on its waiting list for public housing, a figure, if accurate, that would account for fully 20% of Marion County’s population.

At a budget hearing last month, IHA’s Board was told that the agency must achieve 97% occupancy to balance its federally funded spending plan next year yet recent figures show less than 93% of the program’s units are occupied, a dilemma Interim Executive Director Jennifer Green partially blamed on a lack of maintenance personnel to prepare apartments for new residents.

Green explained to the committee that three members of the new IHA Board will be public housing residents, two of them appointed by resident councils and one by the mayor.

Those members appointed by the residents will serve four-year terms, which caused Councilwoman Maggie Lewis to quiz Green about the Agency’s “move up and move out” philosophy to provide tenants with temporary and not permanent housing.

Green said most resident Board members serve no more than three years which would result in a replacement named to serve out the rest of the term if a tenant member should move out of public housing.

During public discussion, one woman who said she lived in an IHA property told the committee that resident funds raised through vending machine sales and subsidies to fees by a local YMCA were allegedly stolen by the former president of her building’s resident council.

What followed was clarification for councilors defining the difference between resident councils and the IHA Board.

Proposal 197 will come before the full council in January at roughly the same time Mayor Hogsett will be welcoming a new IHA Executive Director.

The original draft of Proposal 197, written by IHA and sponsored by City-County Council President Vop Osili, would have delayed two Hogsett appointments due at the end of this year and extend those terms until December 31, 2019, thus ensuring the mayor’s new appointment would serve with the existing Board which has overseen the operations and finances that are now subject to federal inquiry.

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