Public housing vision outlined for MLK corridor

Indianapolis Housing Agency

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– The boss at Indianapolis public housing said he didn’t know why one of his agency’s affiliated entities was buying up distressed properties in the vicinity of West 30th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street.

Today, Indianapolis Housing Agency (IHA) Director John Hall and the IHA Board of Commissioners were apprised of the someday plans for that neighborhood by Insight Development, its autonomous development arm.

Insight President Jennifer Green told Hall and commissioners that she approved down payments and purchases of the former Mustang Ranch and an abandoned retail center in the “MLK Corridor” for undetermined eventual multi-family affordable housing, community service and economic development.

In January, two months before Hall’s arrival to take over the troubled public housing agency, Green signed off on a $50,000 down payment for the former Mustang car repair shop at 3017 MLK with the intention, she told commissioners today, of turning it into an automotive repair training center along with housing.

In March, just as Hall was coming on the job, Insight and its development partner, NWQOL Holding Company, took out a $225,000 mortgage to buy an empty and dilapidated retail center across the street which Green said would someday also be a site for housing.

Green said that the owner of the Mustang Ranch wanted to sell his property to a buyer that would commit to economic development along the MLK Corridor and she likened the potential investment to a recent $400,000 Insight grant to open Cleo’s Bodega at Flanner House, a fresh market to address food desert issues in the surrounding community.

Commissioner Sherry Seiwert endorsed the development plans as “great” for the traditionally under-served and under-capitalized area.

Such investments of public funds could be expected to generate private investment and development on the properties adjoining the Insight purchases and enhance their values.

Green told commissioners that Insight has renovated and sold four properties in the greater northwest side community, has two more on the market and has retained funding to undertake construction on two additional houses.

Commissioners also learned that IHA revenue projections are still off by nine percent this year owing to excessive vacancy rates across its apartment complexes.

Hall said that occupancy has climbed to 91% since his arrival, which is still seven percent below federal public housing guidelines and IHA’s own projections to balance its 2019 budget.

Forty-five units available for leasing remained empty last month despite the thousands of potential residents on IHA waiting lists.

Twenty units inside the Barton Tower and Concord properties have been empty for two years or more.

Hall said he has improved management training and is in the final stages of adding four new members to his administrative team after his arrival coincided with the departure of key IHA administrative staff and property manager.

IHA is owed more than a million dollars by tenants for back rent, 90% more than 60 days overdue. $2.8 million in property improvements are on tap by the end of this year.

Hall said that while he has funding for adding one thousand new residents to IHA’s Section 8 rental assistance program, he expects only about 300 new recipients will find themselves in government assisted private housing by January 1.

Recent federal inspections of properties and management reveal the agency is “gaining momentum” to meet U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines for public housing, according to Hall, even though the agency will soon be removed as manager as the Georgetown Apartments on the northeast side due to longstanding oversight and operational deficiencies.

Of IHA’s 351 surveillance cameras, 343 are working. All crime is down 13% throughout IHA.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett recently told CBS4 that he stands behind Hall and his efforts to turn around the troubled agency.

“To the extent that there are people who are not supportive of John’s reformation, that needs to change because the agency is an important agency to the city and John has been brought in to reform it.”

Hogsett recently called for outside counsel to be retained to exam an allegation of a personal slur directed at Hall by a member of the Insight Board who allegedly disparaged the director’s campaign to fix the agency.

The IHA Commissioners approved a contract not to exceed $20,000 to hire an outside legal firm to undertake unspecified work.

The mayor also said he would ask the Indy Chamber to conduct an organizational review of IHA and Insight Development.

Hogsett noted that while Insight is an independent entity, it operates and serves at the pleasure of the IHA Board and Hall.

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