HHA wrong again

Challen Stephens of  The Huntsville Times wrote “Huntsville Housing Authority kill big purchase in southwest Huntsville”:

The Huntsville Housing Authority has abandoned plans to buy and fix up a 16-unit apartment complex in a “rundown neighborhood” in southwest Huntsville…

Carlen Williams, director of development, told the authority board that the foreclosed apartments would cost just $195,000, but inspections have since revealed an additional $500,000 in structural repairs.

Executive Director Michael Lundy, who recommended against the purchase, said the repairs could actually reach $1 million…

For several months, the authority has been scouting locations across the city to spend $4 million in federal dollars to buy and fix up foreclosed properties. So far the authority has bought 21 homes under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program…

In order to justify such expensive repairs, Lundy said, there would need to be other investors in the neighborhood.

He said the authority didn’t find any partners, and the authority itself was unable to buy the surrounding properties.

The Jamison property is located in the neighborhood behind the Humane Society on Johnson Road.  This is a known drug and prostitute area.  BTW this isn’t even the worst apartment complex in the neighborhood – there’s an abandoned complex at the corner of Knight and Cobb (the City should fine the owner of that property – but it’s probably City property – I’d like to know who owns it).

The HPD tells us that public housing is safer than housing in general, so the added police presence would be great for that neighborhood.

Buying in that neighborhood is just what HHA should be doing, this is what  the “Neighborhood Stabilization Program” is meant to address:

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) was established for the purpose of stabilizing communities that have suffered from foreclosures and abandonment. Through the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed and abandoned homes and residential properties, the goal of the program is being realized.

For comparison, Stone Manor cost $60,000 per unit – the Jamison complex could cost from $44,000 (HHA Director of Development estimate) to $75,000 per unit (HHA Director estimate) – note that the midpoint of the HHA’s own estimates is about $60,000 – too funny.  The range of estimates within the HHA itself should have given the HHA Board pause to reflect – I’d like to see the detailed documentation supporting Lundy’s estimate – this lack of oversight by the Board smacks of incompetence or worse, pursuit of the failed policy of deconcentrating poverty.

The excuse of ‘needing other partners’ to invest is bogus.  The HHA presumably plans to receive more Federal funding next year – they could ‘stabilize’ the entire neighborhood over time.

You can count on the HHA to do the wrong thing…

Educate them

Me and several of my stereotypically ugly rancorous prejudiced nasty fellow citizens attended the Huntsville City Council working session tonight, where we were harangued by a sanctimonious ‘Fair Housing’ agitator.

City Councilman Will Culver arranged for Fair Housing ‘experts’ to address a working meeting of the Huntsville City Council, including George Jones of the Fair Housing Center of North Alabama (the group that threatened to sue the City over the Drummond Road house).   Jones launched into a thinly-disguised sales pitch for education programs and other services.  In my opinion he and his group are hustlers trying to shake down the City by threatening lawsuits with one hand and offering services with the other.

Jones said he “respects the opposition”, even as he uses phrases like “unfortunately”, “acrimony”, “rancorous”, “real ugly”, “nasty”, and the “heavy tinge of hostility”.  He presented his opinions as “very important” (many times) and his approach to opposing views was to “educate them” (I don’t think he realized that he was in a room with people who are ‘educated’ on housing issues).

The meeting ended prematurely because of the tornado – it passed over City Hall shaking the building – we evacuated to the basement after it passed.

City Councilman Sandra Moon was visibly agitated by Jones’ remarks, but she didn’t get to publicly respond to Jones.  If that guy comes back Moon is ready to ‘educate’ him on housing issues.

Several people approached Jones after the meeting was cancelled to discuss housing and his offensive mischaracterizations.  One questioner (and frequent commenter here) kept getting the same response from Jones regardless of his question:  Jones kept repeating “what have you done to further fair housing?”  Like paying for it doesn’t count…

Jones cited the Westchester case (“Housing as Busing”) in his speech as a reason to comply (or else!) with Fair Housing law.  Note that the Westchester case actually arose from “false claims” made by the County in its ‘Affirmatively Furthered Fair Housing’ certifications – so as long as the City of Huntsville doesn’t lie on forms sent to the Feds – they should be OK. 

Since I’m not a lawyer, my legal intepretation might be a bit shaky.  But since Mr. Jones is a “non-practicing lawyer” employed by a  lawsuit-happy “private non-profit”, his legal interpretation might be a bit shaky too.

I know that Councilman Culver had good intentions when he asked Jones to speak, but Jones is an agitator and he cares nothing about this City.  The other guest Culver invited, Michael Brown of Bradley Arant law firm in Birmingham, made a nice presentation about Fair Housing Law.  I understand that Culver wants to reschedule the meeting – maybe next time more “nasty” people from Huntsville will show up.  IMO Culver is doing the right thing by facilitating discussion of the housing issue, but if that guy represents the other side then nothing good can come of it.

***

Thanks to Mayor Battle, Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds, and HPD Sergeant Mark Roberts for their response to the tornado – they reacted immediately and handled themselves professionally when notified.

Our Public Mansion Authority

Our friends at the South Huntsville Civic Association reported on the Huntsville Housing Authority Board Meeting last Friday (November 13, 2009) in the article “Our Public Housing Mansion Authority: The Wrapup on Friday’s HHA Board Meeting”.   Please follow the link and read the whole thing.  Here are some excerpts (to SHCA – I hope you don’t mind the extensive use of your article):

…Friday’s Huntsville Housing Authority board meeting was chock-full of newsworthy items, most of it sure to raise the blood pressure of anyone who pays taxes or cares about competent, responsive government.

The most provocative issue by far was the proposed redevelopment of the Brookside housing project… This project is so outrageous in so many ways, it’s hard to even know where to begin.  The architect and developer presented artistic renderings of the proposed development, and it is undeniably beautiful.  Designed as a collection of historic-looking cottages with many windows and Victorian details, the plans look like something out of Southern Living.  And they should:  With a proposed price tag of $17 million for 72 housing units, each unit will cost at least $236,000.  But as the developer helpfully noted, HUD guidelines would allow the HHA to actually spend up to $22 million, or $305,000 per unit.

…the median home value in Huntsville in 2007 (before the market tanked) was less than $140,000.  But now taxpayers are going to spend $236,000 – $305,000 per unit on a high-end public housing development which will replace existing housing that is currently performing its intended function. 

There are actually four reasons.

First, the HHA is like so many other government agencies in that it lives to spend our taxes.  With a torrent of “free money” flowing from Washington these days, the HHA figures it should get all it can.  HHA commissioner Tommy Beason made exactly this point during his public comments, saying:  “Somebody’s going to get this money, so why not us?”

Second, the HHA is fully onboard with the city’s agenda of downtown redevelopment.  The Lowe Mill area is a priority for cleanup, which is why the Downtown Rescue Mission was moved out two years ago.  Now comes the Brookside project, which the HHA sees as a catalyst for revitalization of the larger neighborhood.  Mr. Lundy on Friday bragged that the HHA’s actions will help lead to “long-term viability for the city of Huntsville.”

Third, the HHA – like housing authorities across the country – wants to do everything it can to increase the rolls of public housing.  Recall that after Stone Manor was purchased, the HHA urged the residents there to apply for public housing assistance so they could stay in their apartments.  To normal citizens, it is absolutely insane to encourage self-sufficient people to go on the public dole for no good reason, but that is exactly what the HHA did and continues to do.  Keep in mind that one-third of the Brookside units will be set aside for families making up to $53,000 per year. 

Fourth – …the HHA truly believes in the unsubstantiated and nonsensical notion that providing the poor with upscale housing will somehow lead them to seek self-sufficiency.  Just to be clear:  The plan is to give poor folks a low-rent deal on a $300,000 house and expect them to then become self-sufficient and move down-market to a house they can actually afford?  Good luck with that.

The HHA talked a lot on Friday about its Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, but it still remains a fact that less than 10% of all HHA residents (192 people) are enrolled in it, and the HHA refuses to divulge the program’s success rate. 

There is a term for such a lackluster effort:  Window dressing.

…During the public comment period, newly-elected state senator Paul Sanford took the HHA to task for the extravagance of the Brookside proposal and for the way the current Brookside residents are being treated.  Noting the forced relocations of Councill Courts and Stone Manor residents, Sanford said, “It just seems a little unfair to me that the Huntsville Housing Authority is getting into the business of displacing people.”  Haughty as ever, Mr. Lundy told The Huntsville Times that he wanted to have a meeting with Sen. Sanford and that, “His opinion may change as a result of a meaningful conversation.” 

…One of the most enlightening aspects of the meeting came at the end with the comment period for the commissioners.  Tommy Beason led off by throwing a temper tantrum, berating as malicious and uninformed those who dare criticize the HHA.  Dr. Phillip Redrick then said that he appreciated the interest (South Huntsville) people are now showing by attending the HHA board meetings, and then added sarcastically that he wished people had showed this much interest during the prior fifteen years he has been on the board.  It seemingly does not occur to Dr. Redrick that most people actually have jobs and, unlike college professors, cannot easily leave work for 2-3 hours to attend these sorts of meetings.  The only reason people are showing up now is because they are fighting to defend their neighborhoods from a predatory government agency.  But it is frankly outrageous that taxpayers should have to go to such extraordinary lengths to protect themselves from their own government.  Next came Dorothy Ford, the resident representative on the board, who summed up nicely the sort of entitlement mentality the HHA fosters.  She decried all the calls for openness and transparency, saying that the HHA should not have to announce to the public what it’s doing.  Said Ms. Ford, “We should have the privilege of privacy just like every other citizen in the city of Huntsville.”  She then said she didn’t understand why anyone would be upset about the high cost of the Brookside project because the residents deserve nice housing and, “I would like a new house, too.”  Apparently, the idea that someone has to pay for all of this extravagance and that nice things have to be earned are utterly foreign concepts to her.  Sometimes words simply fail.

This is valuable first-hand commentary from your friends and neighbors – thanks to these people for their time and energy devoted to making Huntsville a better City.

Housing as Busing

The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal published the article “Housing as Busing” by Howard Husock.  The issues we’ve been having locally with the HHA appear to be part of a larger national issue.  Read the whole thing, and here are some excerpts to whet your appetite:

“This is historic,” said Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ron Sims, who appeared personally at the announcement of the settlement, “because we are going to hold people’s feet to the fire.” Ever since 1974, localities have used CDBG money to upgrade their low-income neighborhoods. But now, places where “segregation” persists—as Sims claims it does in Westchester—may also have to use their CDBG funds to help relocate poor people to rich neighborhoods…

The reasoning behind building affordable housing in a place like Westchester is that moving lower-income, often-minority families to higher-income, often-white neighborhoods will prove uplifting; it’s the real-estate equivalent of busing black students to white schools. As Sims put it, wealthier communities are obliged to offer “choice” to those of lower income, so that the poor, too, can “enjoy what I call the fruits and benefits of an established neighborhood.”

But we should be skeptical, as research funded by HUD itself shows. Beginning in 1994, an experimental five-city program called Moving to Opportunity started doing exactly what Sims endorses: shifting public-housing tenants to private apartments in better zip codes. The results effectively contradicted the program’s working assumption that such moves would lead to better lives… “We did not find evidence of improvements in reading scores, math scores, behavior or social problems, or school engagement, overall or for any age group.” This finding… —reported: “We find no significant overall effects on adult employment, earnings or public assistance receipt.” The paper also reported no improvements in the subjects’ physical health.

Be sure to click through to the summary of Husock’s book, “America’s Trillion Dollar Housing Mistake – The Failure of American Housing Policy”.

In America’s Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake, Howard Husock explains how, as with so many anti-poverty efforts, low-income housing programs have harmed those they were meant to help while causing grave collateral damage to cities and their citizens. Public housing projects, Mr. Husock writes, are only the best-known housing policy mistakes. His book explains how a long list of lesser-known efforts—including housing vouchers, community development corporations, the low-income housing tax credit, and the Community Reinvestment Act—are just as pernicious, working in concert to undermine sound neighborhoods and perpetuate a dependent underclass.

HHA meeting tonight – 29 Oct

The Huntsville Housing Authority is holding a public hearing tonight:
Thursday, October 29
5:00 p.m.
Oscar Mason Center
149 Mason Court
The HHA will try to make the case that ‘public housing is good for your property values’.  The South Huntsville Civic Association will be there, and I’d guess that there will be several interested politicians attending as well.
One of the real problems people face when fighting City Hall or Federal agencies is that you’ve got a life and you’re making sacrifices to even show up at a meeting, while the bureaucrat can fight you full-time (paid by your taxes) – or worse, hire someone to fight you (also paid by your taxes).

Project phaseout

City Journal published “Project Phaseout” by Howard Husock, which contains some interesting observations about public housing.  City Journal is on my favorites list because they write great articles, usually with a New York flavor, but still applicable to us.  Here’s a taste:

Reformers once believed that publicly built apartments would be an improvement over the slums they replaced. Today we know how wrong those reformers were. Public housing has bred long-term dependency; in New York City, public-housing tenants remain in the system, on average, for 20.1 years, free from the time limits that apply to other forms of welfare. A perverse federal requirement that rent be set as a percentage of income discourages families from striving to earn more and better their circumstances, since that would just hike their rent. From a social-policy standpoint, public housing is rightly considered a disaster.

I don’t know that Huntsville Housing Authority can (or would want to) implement Husock’s idea for shrinking public housing.  I’m guessing that the HUD rules under which they operate actually encourage growth in public housing.

HHA Board Meeting Report 20 July 2009

I attended the Huntsville Housing Authority Board Meeting today, along with more than 50 other citizens and over a dozen HHA officials.  Representative Mike Ball,  Huntsville City Council members Sandra Moon and Will Culver, City Brenda Martin, South Huntsville Civic Association leader Jennifer Steele, and Huntsville Community Rights leader Linda Lawrence attended the meeting, as well as the Huntsville Times’ Challen Stephens.  Here’s my summary of the 1 1/2 hour meeting.

I’m not always the biggest fan of the HHA, but Chairman Charley Burruss deserves notice for responsiveness by changing the meeting place to accomodate more people.  CEO Mike Lundy and his team also deserve notice and congratulations for earning the HUD ”High Performer” award for three consecutive years, this year scoring 97 out of 100 points (past scores = 92/100 and 96/100).  Board member Dick Fountain noted that Lundy has turned the HHA into an award-winning agency and that the HHA was “near troubled” when he started.

On to the meeting – it started with the Finance Report – which was presented as a percentage variance from the plan – in other words it was about as meaningless and opaque as possible and provides no real information or insight into the finances of the HHA.

Bereavement Changes to the Personnel Policy Manual were approved to include ‘unrelated persons who lived with the deceased full-time’, or in other words, bereavement leave for same-sex couples (ed. – or other couples living without benefit of marriage).

The Gateway Place senior living development floor plans and artist drawings were presented by the architect (didn’t get his name but here is a website).   Gateway Place will be built at Gallatin Street and Lowe Avenue alongside Fagan Creek (the guy even mentioned that the development would be built to accomodate the hoped-for Fagan Creek Greenway).  Gateway Place is more than 90,000 square feet with 86 units (81 1 BR, 5 2 BR) built around a central courtyard (80′ x 80′) to serve “elderly only” residents.  Lundy expects to break ground before mid-Autumn.

The HHA has a plan to buy foreclosed homes with $4 million (20 houses) in Federal money and $500k (6 houses) in City / State money.  The City seems to be getting a better deal at $83,000 per house, compared to the $200,000 per house from the Feds.  The funds include the cost to purchase and renovate houses – they will all be within Huntsville City limits.

The HHA also said that they are trying to refinance the Stone Manor development in order to provide mixed-income housing.  The current financing of the development only allows for low-income housing.

Jennifer Steele of the South Huntsville Civic Association asked the HHA to reconsider charging fees for information requests.

Dee Johnson of the Northwoods Residents Council asked the HHA to improve safety at the complex.  She said that Northwoods had reviewed a plan presented by Councilman Culver and the HPD to close Yukon Street (at University Drive) - and that the residents didn’t agree with closing Yukon.  Johnson also asked for better lighting and off-street parking to improve safety.  She also called for a curfew on kids hanging out late at night “doing mischevious things”.  She noted that there have been several burglaries and that a City car had been broken into. Note that the South HSV Civic Association has made the same kind of complaint lately about vandalism in South HSV.

Will Culver spoke about how Huntsville had helped put a man on the moon and asked that we “live together in peace and harmony”.  My impression is that he’s been a good Councilman and a hard worker so far.

Sandra Moon asked for 1) a status report on Stome Manor with numbers of residents, how many stayed, how many moved in, etc.;  2) more information about the purchase of the foreclosures; and 3) assurance that the HHA will notify Council members of foreclosure purchases in their districts.

The Board went into ‘Executive Session’ becuase of pending litigation, so I skipped out rather than wait the additional 30 minutes.

HHA Board Meeting 20 July 2009

The Huntsville Housing Authority Board meeting is Monday at Noon:

HHA’s regularly scheduled board meeting will be held on Monday, July 20, 2009, at 12:00 noon at the Oscar Mason Center. 

The Oscar Mason Center is located in Mason Court off Holmes Avenue:

149 Mason Court
Huntsville, AL 35805
(256)535-2249

The agenda includes:

1. Presentation of Gateway Place Architectural Drawings.
2. Act on Resolution Authorizing Executive Director/CEO/Contracting Officer to Enter into Contract for Real Estate Services.
3. Stone Manor Refinancing Status Report.

BTW the “Contract for Real Estate Services” is to replace Sam Givhan, who resigned his position with the HHA.   Here’s some useful links to more:

South Huntsville Civic Association

Huntsville Community Rights

CORRECTION:  The “Contract for Real Estate Services” is a different contract – but Sam Givhan did decide to end his association with the HHA.

Let’s remind our politicians exactly who they work for

“Let’s remind our politicians exactly who they work for”.  Linda Lawrence received a standing ovation for this remark at the South Huntsville Civic Association meeting packed into Grissom’s auditorium Monday night.  Her SECOND standing ovation came after quoting from the Declaration of Independence – IMO the ovations were given out of appreciation for her efforts to hold the City and HHA accountable. 

The applause was also a warning shot to City officials who may find themselves out of office if they continue to pursue the unproven (or failed) policy of deconcentrating poverty. 

The South Huntsville Civic Association’s mission “is to unite residents of South Huntsville so we have one powerful voice that lets our local leaders know we expect them to: address our issues and concerns; operate government in a transparent manner”.  Their primary function “will be to act as a watchdog” for city government.  Their focus is on schools and safety

The Association is also planning to “screen candidates” and establish  a Political Action Committee (PAC) to fund candidates.  The meeting was attended by about 1200 citizens.

The group is headed by Mark Dummer and James Steele (disclosure – I put out yard signs for Steele when he ran for Mayor).  Challen Stephens of The Huntsville Times interviewed Dummer in this excellent article, “South Huntsville sends loud message”.  Stephens is an asset to Huntsville and I wish the Times had more reporters like him (and wrote more about local issues).

The meeting was moderated by a Huntsville Police Department Officer, who I’m certain is a nice guy, but IMO it is inappropriate to have a public meeting moderated by the Police.  Maybe someone with the HPD or City can explain that to us.

City Councilwoman Sandra Moon, Mayor Tommy Battle, and School Board Member Jennie Robinson gave introductory remarks; then Robinson gave a summary of the schools in the area, noting that enrollment at Grissom High School has increased (and it was already over-capacity) and that “some schools have been negatively impacted” by “Section 8 and affordable housing”.  Robinson noted that “historically, South Huntsville schools were not well-maintained” because of political correctness.  She closed by saying “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.

State Representative Mike Ball (R – 10) said that he ran for public office to ‘make the State Government more open, honest, and accountable’.  He described his proposed legislation to hold HHA accountable by: taking away their power of eminent domain, requiring public notification, and requiring the approval of the ELECTED City Council.  Ball promised to make passage of this bill his “top priority” next year.  Mike received applause after each part of his bill.

Several City Officials made presentations, including HPD South Precinct Captain Kenny Bryant, Terry Hatfield, Shane Davis, and Brenda Martin.  Civic Association leaders Mark Dummer and James Steele spoke about “holding elected officials accountable” and asked people to join the organization.

Then Linda Lawrence spoke…  Lawrence described Huntsville Community Rights, an organization formed to provide “facts about the intentions of the Huntsville Housing Authority”.  Lawrence said about deconcentrating poverty that there is “absolutely no proof that this works” and that “social engineering is socialism”.  Lawrence received two standing ovations from the 1200 people assembled – compare that to light applause mixed with boos for Mayor Battle.

The Police Moderator then announced question time – email questions… WE SHOWED UP and the City doesn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge that by asking questions from the audience.  There was  a general groan from the audience when he said the first question was about sidewalks, as well as some outbursts from the crowd.  The City can’t duck the HHA issue forever, and putting an armed Policeman out front won’t stop people from voting.   If the City had handled the HHA situation correctly (or implemented a policy based on more than a slogan) they wouldn’t have to hide.

Senate 7 GOP Runoff Details

Turnout for the Alabama State Senate 7 GOP Primary Runoff was 4,966 voters – or 84% of the GOP Primary turnout (the heuristic is 66%).  This implies a highly motivated base; the GOP Runoff turned out more than the Democrat Primary back in March (4,085).  Keep in mind that there are 96,302 registered voters in the Senate 7 district.

Paul Sanford won with 2961 votes (60%) compared to Sam Givhan’s 2005 votes (40%).  I must admit that this is not what I expected at all – Givhan was poised to win the runoff – but between Sanford’s hustle and the HHA blow up (which splattered on Sam), Paul was able to win by a large margin.  I saw both candidates on Monday – Paul seemed calm and confident, Sam seemed a little agitated – something was up…

The TOP FIVE boxes were Cove UMC (722 votes – 51% Sanford), Blossomwood (409 – 62% Sanford), Covenant (357 – 61% Sanford), Chaffee (304 – 80% Sanford), and Chapman (255 – 60% Sanford).

Sanford won 44 boxes, with his largest wins at Chaffee (186 vote margin), Trinity (116 vote margin) and Blossomwood (99 vote margin).

Givhan won 12 boxes, but his largest win was at Plainview Church with a margin of 19 votes.

After the Primary I thought that: ”Sanford, Hunter, and Richardson chased many of the same votes – if true, then Sanford may defeat Givhan in the Runoff”.

If this was a referendum on the HHA,  elected officials just got a wake up call.