Under its new administration, the Mobile Housing Board (MHB) has begun evicting more residents who owe back rent.
MHB interim Executive Director Michael Pierce said previous directors hadn’t been enforcing leases, but that would change under his watch.
“It’s part and parcel to why we’re deemed a struggling agency,” he said. “We’re going to enforce our leases.”
Although the agency is threatening evictions, residents are being offered repayment plans, and grants are available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help residents catch up, Pierce said.
“We do have clients who haven’t paid who we’ve offered repayment agreements to,” he said. “If they sign those, they’re fine, but if they choose not to, we plan to enforce the lease.”
Enforcing leases can help the agency in a number of ways. Any revenue generated will help the authority’s bottom line, and bringing in new residents can help turn apartments over, Pierce said.
“We want to move to be a standard agency and then an above-average one,” Pierce said. “This is just a piece of the puzzle. We’re doing everything we can possibly do to get off of HUD’s substandard list.”
Ultimately, he said, the moves will benefit all residents in the long run.
MHB has been struggling for years and has had issues with leadership in the past. In 2016, a scathing HUD Office of Inspector General report found a conflict of interest existed between Adline Clarke, then-president of MHB’s nonprofit arm, and a contractor hired to do work for the board. The contractor was Clarke’s half-brother, and the conflict led to HMB having to pay back $1.2 million to HUD. Also at issue in the report was the close relationship between the nonprofit and the board.
MHB Commissioners started to implement changes to the structure of its nonprofit by moving positions within it to the merit-system jobs under the board. However, more problems persisted.
Following Dwayne Vaughn’s departure as executive director, the board suffered a number of hiccups, including an email phishing scam by hackers that cost the authority $485,000. Chief Financial Officer Lori Shackleford retired and then-Executive Director Akinola Popoola was fired soon after, while the board cited the email attack as one of the reasons.
After Popoola’s tenure, Pierce was hired on an interim basis following a board shakeup, which saw two departures in a matter of months.
The recent increase in eviction notices has troubled residents in both R.V. Taylor Plaza and Thomas James Place housing communities. Despite concerns, Pierce said there are no current plans to sell any of the property in the area near the Brookley Aeroplex.
Although Pierce said a Choice Neighborhoods grant from HUD is no longer available for the area, he said there are plans to redevelop Thomas James Place, and active efforts to move residents out of the community and into R.V. Taylor.
Tonya Fraizer, a resident of Thomas James Place since 2001 said she knows the housing in the complex is unsafe. In addition, she has complained to the city “until I’m blue in the face” over infrastructure improvements and the repaving of streets.
Pierce acknowledges that complaints from residents, like Fraizer, are “legitimate.” He said there are many units at Thomas James that are in disrepair.
“We’re currently relocating residents out of isolated areas and out of apartments in disrepair,” he said.
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