The Mobile Housing Board on Wednesday selected a developer for a revitalization project at the Roger Williams homes.
Hunt Companies was selected for the project, by a 3-1 vote. MHB Commissioner Norman Hill voted against the move, saying he had issues with the process.
For one, he said the process by which a developer is chosen is flawed because the three-member committee which makes the selection consists of MHB Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn and two subordinates.
“In my view if we’re really trying to get an objective view of who someone is … the brainline should be expanded to include the city and stakeholders,” Hill said. “Instead the executive director and subordinates are involved.”
Hill said he believed another one of the three developers considered had a better track record of receiving the highest amount of federal funds for the project. He said while all three of the companies ultimately considered for the project could handle the work, he would’ve gone with Hollyhand Development, out of Tuscaloosa for the Roger Williams work. Hollyhand has already been selected for a portion of the revitalization project along the Michigan Avenue corridor.
“Anyone of these firms can do this,” Hill said. “It will boil down to who has the money and who can come up with the best funding plan.”
Hill added that including the city and county into the selection process could help MHB secure more federal funds, in the form of tax credits, for the project.
Lori Shackleford, MHB Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, told Hill Hunt was selected because they were the strongest respondent from a financial perspective.
Commissioner Melvin Clark said he trusted the committee members, who selected the developer.
“We just have to trust what we have before us,” he said.
Commissioner Donald Langham said the city was involved and asked Hill who else should be in on the selection.
Hill suggested adding someone with technical expertise in construction, or someone in the financial field.
“We’ve got folks who know construction and I’m sure they’re involved,” Langham said. Hunt convinced me. It all boils down to money and I think those folks can do the job.”
He said the most important thing is to get units in Roger Williams torn down and to construct liveable facilities there.
The choice of program director for the project was also discussed at the meeting. MHB staff members told commissioners Wednesday the Communities Group, out of Washington, D.C., would be the program director, which coincides with a $375,000 planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Roger Williams and the Three Mile Trace neighborhood recently awarded to the MHB. The grant will help MHB plan for a mixed-use, mixed-income development, similar — although smaller in scope — to plans to revitalize three housing communities on the north side of town.
Hill and Langham both indicated they supported the use of local groups in the future.
“We have a lot of resources here and we’re taking money and exporting it to other communities,” Hill said. “It is what it is now.”
Langham said he had spoken for years about bringing in local people for projects.
In other business, Vaughn told commissioners the MHB occupancy rate had improved since HUD gave permission to MHB to try and sell the now-vacant Josephine Allen Homes.
Occupancy rates are now at about 76 percent, he said, with more viable communities at 85 percent. Rates of 65 percent at Thomas James Place and rates in the high 80s at R.V. Taylor and Central Plaza Tower have skewed the numbers, he said.