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.