HUD wants changes at Housing Authority of Joliet
By Bob Okon email@example.com October 28, 2012 9:12PM
A view of the Fairview housing complex which is run by the Housing Authority of Joliet Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, in Joliet. HUD recommends that the authority apply again to demolish the complex. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 30, 2012 6:16AM
JOLIET — Federal regulators want the Housing Authority of Joliet to demolish the Fairview housing complex and restructure operations to lift itself out of a designation as a “troubled” housing agency.
The recommendations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were delivered Friday after an assessment team had spent the week reviewing operations in Joliet.
Joseph Nemedi, leader of the HUD team, said the “troubled” status was triggered by a number of issues, including a late audit, tardy financial statements and low occupancy rates at Housing Authority of Joliet properties.
“We believe the present management is ready, willing and able to recover,” Nemedi told the HAJ board at a special meeting Friday.
HUD funds the housing authority and oversees its operations, although the board of directors is appointed by the mayor of Joliet. The housing authority provides subsidized income for low-income individuals and families.
Demolishing Fairview, a 168-unit complex, is not a new idea. HAJ itself planned to tear down Fairview and replace it with a mixed-income subdivision until HUD began questioning the plan in 2010.
Fairview has deteriorated to the point that it makes more financial sense to replace it than fix it, said Erik Sandstedt, a general engineer for HUD.
Sandstedt described Fairview as “effectively worn out,” saying it would need an overhaul in heating, lighting and other systems to be brought up to current standards for energy efficiency. Retaining walls are deteriorating, he said. And underground utilities need repairs.
“We would encourage the housing authority to reapply for demolition of that property,” Sandstedt said.
HAJ also would have to get out of its “troubled” status to replace Fairview. One of the conditions of the troubled designation is that HUD does not allow a housing agency to develop new properties.
HAJ had planned to reapply this year for HUD approval of its Fairview plan. But the housing agency has gone through a tumultuous year, including the firing of former Executive Director Henry Morris in June after an investigation of allegations made by two female employees.
Morris was replaced by his top assistant, Michael Simelton, who did receive words of confidence from the HUD team. Simelton already had already started working on some of the changes that HUD team wants to see, the team told the HAJ board.
Changes HUD wants to see include:
◆ Timely financial statements, especially audits.
◆ Decentralization of management so property managers have more control of their buildings and are better able to build up occupancy rates.
◆ A formal training program for employees, especially managers.
◆ Improved employee review process because some employees and not others have been getting reviews.
Sandstedt also told HAJ board members that they should stop talking directly with housing employees about workplace issues.
“That is something that is really not appropriate in any municipal organization,” Sandstedt said, recommending that board members go to Simelton about issues involving individual employees. “It’s not appropriate to go to an individual on the staff.”