Mobile Housing Board (MHB) Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn informed board members last week that the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had visited in a “routine review of [MHB] financial operations, as part of [HUD] plans to review a number of housing boards each year.”
“The review is just starting,” he wrote in an email message following the meeting.
Inspector General spokeswoman Marta Metelko confirmed an audit is underway, but did not specify whether it is a routine review. In the same email message, Vaughn said a separate review was initiated “by a former maintenance supervisor who was laid off and is currently in litigation with MHB.”
Metelko could not confirm or deny another investigation is taking place. The litigation stems from a lawsuit filed against MHB from former employees over lost wages.
Ty Criswell, Ronald Coffman, Eric Knight, Samuel McCord, Denisa Peacock and Joe Frank Smiley Jr. claim in the suit that MHB knowingly withheld regular, overtime and on-call pay while the six were working as maintenance supervisors for the Board. They also happen to be part of a group of 20 employees MHB and its nonprofit partner Mobile Development Enterprises laid off last year. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Daniel Hannan, said at the time the layoffs were a coincidence and not retaliation, as plans for the suit had been in the works before they took place.
A source close to the suit recently said the two sides are currently in depositions and a trial date has not yet been announced.
In his report from the Board’s monthly meeting last week, Vaughn said MHB has not yet been accepted into HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which would help it finance work to be done on two major redevelopment projects along Michigan Avenue and at Roger Williams Homes on St. Stephen’s Road.
Under the RAD program, MHB could act more like a private developer, with the ability to borrow money from banks, in order to help it inject new capital into redevelopment projects. Currently MHB cannot borrow from private sources.
MHB has submitted “all of the documents necessary” to be considered for the RAD program, with Vaughn saying “the approval is in HUD’s hands.”
“We understand that a decision should be made in the next several weeks,” he wrote. “We had anticipated an approval several months ago and have not been able to move forward on some fronts … .”
Vaughn said if MHB is not accepted, it would move forward under normal HUD development guidelines and financing. He said currently there is no timetable set for redevelopment of these issues.
The RAD program would help MHB complete a $70 million redevelopment of complexes including Thomas James Place, R.V. Taylor Plaza and Boykin Tower, all part of the south side corridor.
The new funding resource would also help with a $200 million redevelopment of Roger Williams on the city’s north side.
If RAD approval comes through, however, MHB “would have a year to use the tool,” he wrote. Until then, there won’t be a timetable for development.
MHB’s participation in the RAD program will have no effect on the Choice Neighborhood grants awarded for Roger Williams homes and the south side corridor developments early this year. The grants total more than $1 million. Those funds are part of HUD planning grants and can continue regardless of the board’s inclusion in RAD.
In other business, the Board unanimously selected Don Langham as chairman. He will serve through the end of the year until the board has its annual meeting in January. He takes over for outgoing chairman Clarence Ball. Ball was replaced on the board by Kim Pettway, who was appointed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson. A vice chairman will be selected at the next board meeting.
The Board approved a new contract for laundry services at its senior living facilities at Boykin Towers, Downtown Renaissance and Central Plaza Towers. MHB issued a request for proposals and received only one response, from Commercial & Coin Laundry Equipment Company of Gulf Breeze, Florida.
The new two-year contract means an increase to $1.50 per load each to use the washers and dryers at the facilities. When asked by Pettway if the price-per-load in the contract was comparable to that of local laundromats, Griffin Shreaves, MHB compliance manager, affirmed, stating the typical charge is one quarter for every five minutes on a washing machine.
Freeman, the board’s resident member, said having the washers and dryers on site is a good thing.
“It’s more expensive to go to public laundromats,” she said. “Even though the price has gone up it’s still worth it.”
Machines that don’t need to be immediately replaced will still cost $1.25 per load during a six-month transition period.
In his email, Vaughn wrote the MHB is responsible for providing water and electricity for the machines. MHB will get a portion of the proceeds from the money placed in the washers and dryers to cover its expenses. Machines are only offered in the senior living complexes, he wrote. In many family complexes, hookups are provided, but machines are not.