Feds taking over Gary Housing Authority
GARY — Facing mounting problems involving financial mismanagement, empty units, bed bugs and aging buildings, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Thursday the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking over the troubled Gary Housing Authority.
“HUD will stand with the City in addressing the shortcomings at the agency,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Sandra B. Henriquez, who announced the receivership Thursday.
“We respect the mayor’s commitment to the city and its public housing residents to take this bold and courageous step.”
Freeman-Wilson said she made the move on her own without the approval of the GHA board of directors, which was dissolved by the action.
About 3,000 people live in the city’s nine public housing centers, which include five senior high-rise centers.
The mayor said town hall meetings for GHA residents will be held next week and will be open to the media and members of the public.
“It was hard decision. But when you take the politics out of it and look at facts, it was the only decision,” said Freeman-Wilson, who took office last year.
“The issue is financial more than anything,” Freeman-Wilson said. “They have lost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.” While the GHA was controlled by the city, its funding comes from the federal government and grants.
Freeman-Wilson said the housing centers had too many unoccupied units. Some of the city’s aging public housing centers like Delaney and Dorie Miller are aging badly and haven’t been maintained, she said.
“We’ve had chronic bed bug problems,” Freeman-Wilson said. “To think there are folks living with bed bugs for three years ... some issues you have to alleviate.” Freeman-Wilson said Genesis Towers High Rise, 578 Broadway, and the Al Thomas High Rise, 100 W. 11th Ave., are still infested with bed bugs.
“I’ve always been taught in those incidences when you need help, you ask for it,” Freeman-Wilson said. “I don’t think it’s an indictment.”
A news release stated Henriquez named HUD employees Willie Garrett as executive director and Steven Meiss as the one-person board of directors. Garrett is the public housing director in HUD’s Detroit Field Office with 15 years of housing experience in both the private and public sector. He will work directly with the housing authority staff to manage day-to-day operations to ensure residents will continue receiving services.
Meiss is the public housing director in HUD’s Chicago Field Office and a HUD veteran with more than 36 years of housing experience.
Under the partnership agreement, HUD will first develop a detailed action plan to stabilize the housing authority’s operations. The second step will be to address specific problems HUD identified in a comprehensive review of the agency’s operations. The receivership period will be for at least two years. Interim GHA Executive Director Mary Cossey will remain at the agency to assist with the turnaround efforts.
Recent numbers weren’t available, but in 2011 the GHA had a 25 percent vacancy rate, despite a long waiting list.
In 2003, the GHA entered a memorandum of agreement with HUD to improve its operations. As part of the agreement, site teams periodically visited and provided reports.
In 2011, HUD gave the GHA a score of zero on its financial management in the Public Housing Assessment System, a report card for public housing agencies nationwide.
The GHA turned to Woodlawn Community Development Corp., a Chicago social services organization, to run the agency by a federal order. Woodlawn received about $850,000 and operated the GHA until 2010. Woodlawn’s former chief financial officer later filed a whistleblower complaint against Woodlawn in federal court in 2011 alleging ghost payrolling.