The Mobile Housing Board of Commissions (MHB) on Thursday, Dec. 13, voted to approve an agreement with the city to help infuse more capital funding into the public housing agency.
Commissioners voted unanimously to amend the agreement to reduce the annual fee paid to the city from almost $200,000 to $120,000, or $10,000 per month. The changes also clarify that the board can direct its own staff.
The Mobile City Council has already approved the agreement.
One sticking point came when Commissioner Norman Hill questioned language in the agreement that referred to an interim executive director.
“This language is speaking to a position I’m not clear on,” he said. “You’re putting language in it for a position we don’t have.”
While it’s true there is no staff member with the position of interim executive director, the board agreed to give Chairwoman Kimberly Pettway and Human Resources Manager Kathy Bryant signatory authority to help run the day-to-day operations of the authority after former Executive Director Akinola Popoola was fired in September, Pettway clarified in a phone call after the meeting.
Through the agreement, the city will support the housing authority with the help of two grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The grants total $2.5 million to $3 million and are a combination of HOME and Community Development Block grants, Senior Director of Community Housing and Development Jamie Roberts has previously said.
In addition to the capital funding, the city will help the authority assess its housing stock, as well as develop a master plan, Roberts told Lagniappe in a previous interview. As for the city’s side of things, the agreement would give Roberts and his team more access to the board’s financial records and could help secure more HUD funding in the future.
In other business, Happy Hills residents complained about the state of Josephine Allen Homes, an MHB-owned complex north of downtown that has been vacant and unmaintained for years.
Gary Miller, who grew up in the area, said he was concerned about the board’s lack of plans for Josephine Allen.
“It’s been vacant for almost six years,” he said. “Our concern is that it’s an eyesore.”
Miller compared Josephine Allen to Roger Williams Homes, which he said was demolished about a year after it was vacated.
To clarify, Pettway told Miller a demolition application had been pending for Roger Williams for about eight years prior to its coming down. As for Josephine Allen, Pettway was unsure if a demolition application had ever been submitted to HUD.
Former MHB Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn told commissioners in 2015 HUD had agreed to allow the authority to sell the property. If it couldn’t be sold, Vaughn said, the authority would ask “again” for the complex to be demolished.
Pettway said Happy Hills was a priority for her since joining the board about four years ago. Growing up in Prichard, she had childhood friends who lived there, Pettway said. She mentioned a plan to sell the complex, but said she helped quash it when it was determined the property would be sold to industry.
“I was opposed to that and we were able to get that stopped,” she said.
She added she has recently had conversations with HUD and hopes a demolition application can be submitted if one is not currently in the works. Once the application is approved, the complex could be torn down as early as next year.
“It’s this board’s intent to do right by the people of that community,” Pettway said.
Eddie King, a 70-year resident of the Happy Hills area, said he’s concerned for the livelihoods of older residents in the community.
“The biggest thing is not that project,” he said. “The biggest thing is making it livable for us. We would love to hear or see something — some money to come around here and make lives livable.”
But Pettway said what King was asking for was not within the purview of the board and referred him to Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents the area.
The board also elected officers for next year. Pettway was re-elected as chairwoman by a 3-2 vote. Hill and Commissioner Joyce Freeman were the dissenting votes. Freeman had previously nominated Hill for the position. Freeman nominated Hill as vice chair too, but he declined the nomination. Breanne Zarzour was elected vice chairwoman.
Pettway also answered questions related to a new executive director search. She said the board hasn’t started the search yet because commissioners want to get the right person in place once they determine the agency’s needs. The board moved to start a search next month, but Pettway said they might have to suspend it. She expects to help with the day-to-day operations of the board in lieu of an executive director for about a year.
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