Indy public housing board can’t muster quorum during upheaval

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indianapolis Housing Agency has been found in non-compliance by federal auditors, must account for more than $500 million paid in unqualified housing subsidies, has been questioned about $1.7 million owed to residents in self-sufficiency accounts, is facing a protest by Barton Tower residents over the transfer of their manager, is struggling to catch up on overdue maintenance and to raise sub-standard occupancy rates, is trying to solve a crime increase and brace itself for the appointment of a new executive director and board of commissioners.

Meanwhile, the current Board of Commissioners could not muster enough interest among its members to reach a quorum for Tuesday’s meeting, leaving the monthly agenda to deal with pressing issues inside the embattled agency postponed until next month.

“All of our board members have other jobs and other things,” said Interim Executive Director Jennifer Green. “As was mentioned, we had one board member that just got out of the hospital, we had another board member who broke her ankle. Certain things just came up. This is probably the first time we’ve ever had a situation where we have not had a quorum. I don’t see that being an issue in February and from now on.”

Green said there were no time sensitive issues on the agenda that could not wait for Board action next month when she may or may not be replaced by Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“I’m here until they bring the next person in.”

Longtime Executive Director Rufus Bud Meyers retired unexpectedly in late August after federal audit reports began filtering back in finding IHA in “non-compliance” in a number of financial issues and deficit in its operations.

“We’ve talked to the departments involved. They’re putting together action plans,” said Green. “We’ve got a lot in that report to work through and we’re continuing to work through it.”

Several Open Records Act Requests have been filed by CBS4 with IHA regarding its response to the reports from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

IHA has rejected those requests, instead providing verbal assurances that during the current phase, after Mayor Hogsett called for an agency management makeover, staff is developing solutions to operational and financial deficiencies that have been years in the making.

“I don’t have anything else that I can provide you,” said Green. “We’re working directly with the (HUD) field office and that’s who we’re getting our contacts with. Unfortunately, they’re not there so until things are finalized we’re not gonna release those comments.”

Green indicated the federal government shutdown has hampered IHA’s ability to fully develop its responses to the HUD findings.

“We don’t have anyone to conversate with at HUD, it’s shut down, we’re just waiting for that to happen. We’re continuing to put things in process based on the report to correct those actions.”

Green explained the unaccounted for Family Self-Sufficiency Escrow, a program where residents in good standing have funds set aside for potential job training, education, transportation or home purchase, may be due to accounting errors.

“When someone is terminated from the program, if they had escrow, that escrow goes back to HUD so what HUD is saying is that they have determined that about $1.7 million of ones that were terminated is sitting in the HUD held reserve account, so it’s our job to go through those ones that were terminated to determine whether or not they were terminated properly, got the proper notice. If they were not, then we would be required through the report to put them back on the program, re-establish their escrow. If we cannot find them then we’ll go through the Indiana Unclaimed so we’re following what’s in the report to do that.”

Some residents in good standing indicated to CBS4 that when they sought access to their escrow funds they were told IHA could not find the money and make it available to them.

“I’m not aware of that,” said Green. “Everything that we know of has been determined. Everyone’s escrow account has been in balance so I’m not aware of that situation.”

It’s been reported that federal auditors went back more than a decade to determine that IHA repeatedly provided housing for residents who were convicted felons, accused of fraud or were otherwise disqualified from the program to the tune of more than a half-billion dollars.

“I’m not sure of that number,” said Green, “but as you know when we find those situations we provide them to our collection agency and those type of things.”

Some residents told CBS4 two days before the canceled board meeting that when they tried to complain about the removal of the popular and effective manager of a downtown public housing property they felt intimidated by IHA top management into not signing a petition.

Those residents did not make good on their threat to attend Tuesday's meeting and present their petition with 154 signatures.

IHA provides public housing for 22,000 low-income people in Marion County with more than 130,000 potential residents on its waiting list at a budget this year of $77 million.

Mayor Hogsett is in the final stages of a nationwide search to find IHA’s next executive director while circumventing an agency attempt to stack its board for years to come by instead dismissing all current commissioners February 28th and appointing a new board, along with the City County Council and residents, March 1.

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