A possible change in operating procedure and a move away from the traditional low-income public housing model in favor of a voucher program has some Mobile Housing Board employees fearing for their jobs.
Several current MHB employees, who requested anonymity, spoke about a corporate meeting they attended last month in which Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn highlighted several changes that could take place as soon as October.
The employees each agreed they were told they’d have to compete for jobs with private management companies, as MHB moves forward with its Housing Transformation Plan 2020 through a new financing option called Rental Assistance Demonstration. They said the move would eliminate the Low-Income Public Housing segment of the board’s operations.
“Under RAD our jobs would be private,” one employee said. “[Private developers] could come in and they would hire their own managers and maintenance. We don’t know if they’d hire from within.”
Another employee said they were told that after Oct. 31, there was “no way to know how long we would have jobs.” The employee said they were also told it’s possible some of the employees in this sector would keep their jobs. The employee said the move would affect building managers, office assistants, and maintenance and public service workers employed at MHB’s properties.
“It puts us in a bad position,” the employee said. “Many of us are too old to start over and too young to retire.”
In an email message Monday evening, Vaughn explained that while MHB would eventually renovate, replace and move all of its decades-old housing from the traditional public housing model to a Section 8 voucher model in several phases, how the new system would be managed has not yet been decided. He said the board could use the popular route of bringing in private developers to manage the properties, or pick another path entirely.
“During the town hall-style corporate meeting, there was discussion regarding how other owners of tax credit properties manage their portfolios,” Vaughn said. “The overwhelming majority of tax credit management is performed by third-party private management contractors trained and adept at tax credit management. MHB’s Board of Commissioners has not decided as to the exact structure of MHB’s new organization as it converts to RAD and will make such decisions …”
Under RAD, MHB would have no more public housing and instead convert everything to Section 8 mixed-income developments. The changes would be funded using tax credits, like other developments, and therefore MHB would have to adhere to Alabama Housing Finance Authority and IRS rules.
“If MHB has no public housing, it would not be prudent to rely on the current business units that exclusively service its current ‘public housing’ inventory,” Vaughn wrote. “Rather, employees in these business units will have to transition to tax credit management, Housing Choice Voucher administration or other business units that are designed to service the tax credit properties.”
Vaughn said the organization will give employees the opportunity to train in these areas in the coming months.
“In fact, some members of the staff have already received tax credit training,” Vaughn wrote. “MHB will encourage employees to avail themselves [of] and master the training offered as MHB transitions to RAD.”
One employee said many colleagues have inquired about retirement, while others plan to “ride this thing out and see what happens.”
The plan would allow the board to “better leverage their resources and secure tax credits and other conventional financing mechanisms” by moving to the voucher program and away from the “financially unpredictable” public housing model, Vaughn wrote.
The goal of the board, Vaughn wrote, is to transform all of the housing stock in four phases, with the first seven properties becoming part of the RAD program by October. This includes redeveloping Roger Williams Homes, Thomas James Place, R.V. Taylor Plaza and Boykin Tower into two mixed-use, mixed-income developments. Developers have already been chosen for these projects, Vaughn wrote, and it is anticipated the developers will “manage the market, workforce and affordable housing in the new communities, and will take on the liability of the financial guarantees normally associated with developments of this type.”
The plan also calls for the renovation of the board’s other properties and the possible sale of the now-vacant Josephine Allen Homes to a developer, Vaughn wrote.
The conversions should not impact residents, except those asked to temporarily move, Vaughn wrote. Meanwhile, the number of housing units will not change, he said.
“There may be fewer units if Josephine Allen is not redeveloped and if MHB decides not to replace units that have been vacant for more than 24 months,” Vaughn wrote. “MHB believes it will serve the same or more families as it currently serves in its public housing program through the use of hard units and additional Housing Choice Vouchers.”
All of the sources said the announcement last month has shattered morale.
“It’s sad,” one employee said. “These guys used to want to come to work. Now, there are no smiles, no nothing.”
Another employee said morale following the meeting was “probably as low as it can get.”
“It was a major blow,” the employee said.
Vaughn wrote that he understands “major change evokes a variety of emotions” and some might be frightened by the announcement.
“Others see the change as a tremendous opportunity to provide better living conditions for the families we have the honor of serving, first of all, and then to learn the tax credit program, tax credit management and move aggressively toward the ‘future’ of affordable housing in this country,” Vaughn wrote. “Those with this perspective will view the change positively and look forward to additional information.”