Fayetteville Housing Authority Acting Deputy Director resigns

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FAYETTEVILLE – The acting deputy director of the Fayetteville Housing Authority is resigning effective September 15, saying some board members do not see the agency’s health as a top priority.

Victoria Dempsey, who is also the director of vouchers and support services, sent a resignation letter to the board on Wednesday evening. She has been working in authority since March 2019.

The resignation follows that of the agency’s acting director, John Berry, whose last day was Wednesday. Berry cited health issues brought on by the stress of working on authority and the way some board members treated him and staff as the reasons for his resignation.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development sent several notices to the authority and its board regarding the misuse of public housing money, which sparked an investigation, Dempsey said in his letter. . Board members made statements at public meetings alleging wrongdoing, blaming staff and using intimidation, she said.

Dempsey said the board did not have any leadership transition plans in place after Berry resigned. She said board chair Melissa Terry gave her most of Berry’s duties during a staff meeting on Wednesday. Dempsey also expressed concern over the departure of more staff due to a hostile work environment and unmanageable workload.

“I’m going to leave with my integrity,” Dempsey said. “I literally feel like I’ve done everything I can to turn the tide or draw attention to the issues.”

Terry said the board is constantly concerned about staff turnover to carry out the functions of authority, including ensuring that low-income and disabled residents have access to housing and client management services. . Several staff left last year and there are currently five vacant positions, she said.

“It signals to the board, as the political governance body of this institution, that we need to put in place some sort of management stabilization plan,” said Terry. “To do this, we contract with a professional organization to achieve this goal. “

ADVISOR CONTRACT

The Departmental Enforcement Center of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a letter to the housing authority on August 16 saying the authority was under review.

The review looked at the authority’s compliance with HUD rules and regulations, particularly with respect to the money that the authority’s nonprofit, Fayetteville Housing Authority Development, owes the authority. ordinary.

The non-profit organization is the development arm of the authority which has its own board of directors made up of the same members as the housing board except one. The board of directors intended to use the nonprofit to purchase and renovate several multi-family properties.

HUD made 20 financial and organizational case requests spanning a period from January 1, 2019 to August 15, with a due date set on Monday. Dempsey said the agency responded to requests on time despite a council plan that HUD rejected for help from a consultant.

The authority’s board of directors – made up of Terry, Ezra Brashears, Kristen Scott, Monique Jones and Kris Paxton – voted 4-0 in a meeting on August 19 to hire a consultant to help meet the demand. files and stabilize the organization. Scott was absent from the meeting.

The board intended to hire Gerald Turner along with HEAL Collective and accountant Lisa Curry McCullough as part of an emergency procurement policy, and hiring was subject to HUD approval. HUD told the agency that the hiring did not meet the federal government’s definition of emergency.

On Thursday, the board of directors held a special meeting to reconsider a $ 19,500, 60-day contract with HEAL Collective. Expenses less than $ 20,000 should not be tendered for in accordance with authority policy.

Contract tasks include support for day-to-day operations; coordination with a hired auditor; analyze finances; assist staff in collecting rent from federal emergency rent assistance tenants; update the recruitment strategy for employees of the authority; attend meetings of the board of directors; and lead biweekly staff meetings with Terry.

Thursday’s meeting ended after about 20 minutes with a 4-0 vote to approve the contract. Scott was absent again.

Conflicts between board members, staff and residents of social housing came to a head at a board meeting in February. A number of residents and former staff have filed complaints against former CEO Angela Belford. The board subsequently fired Belford and Berry took over as interim director.

Berry submitted his resignation letter on Aug. 18, saying he would work 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday until his last day. The board agreed to his terms at a meeting the next day.

Terry said the chairman of the board can only interact with the agency’s top executive and board members can only talk to each other and make decisions in public meetings. Berry missed several days of work and four board meetings due to health issues, she said. Terry said she had meetings with Berry last week and this week to plan for a transition of responsibilities.

“In terms of being able to schedule an hour that fit her schedule, that was our first available opportunity,” she said.

PAY THE DEBT

The authority received a letter Aug. 27 from the local HUD office in Little Rock identifying more money than the nonprofit authority owes the regular authority. HUD first informed the authority of the money the nonprofit organization owed in a May 24 letter and asked the authority to stop using the money from public housing for housing projects. development of the Fayetteville Housing Authority, which does not include public housing units. HUD, authority staff and board members have exchanged several letters about the debt in the meantime.

Dempsey said Thursday that Fayetteville Housing Authority Development owed the regular authority about $ 79,000 or about $ 127,000. The amount depends on whether or not the HUD awards the development nonprofit a federal grant to move residents of the Hillcrest towers to property purchased by the nonprofit, the former Hi-Way. Inn & Motel, while emergency renovations were underway in the towers in 2019.

Terry said a key feature of the contract with HEAL Collective will help collect rent from tenants in developing nonprofit properties through the federal emergency rental assistance program. Washington County operates an online portal to distribute the money. The nonprofit has about $ 210,000 in unpaid rent due to the inability of tenants to pay due to the covid-19 pandemic, she said.

“All of these funds are directly related to unpaid rents,” said Terry. “That’s why our top priority is getting our overdue residents to the Washington County Emergency Rental Help Portal. “

Members of the association’s board of directors have decided to sell or relinquish ownership of five properties in order to recoup the losses. The association still owns the Hi-Way Inn, but it is on the market. Two apartment complexes, one on West End Avenue and the other on Dunn Avenue, returned to the previous ownership in June. Two more complexes, one on 12th Street and the other on Deane Street, are in the process of being sold, Terry said.

Terry said the board will assess the authority’s leadership once Dempsey has worked his last day. A search for a permanent director is underway, she said.

The board will discuss the candidates for the post at a meeting this month and conduct interviews, Terry said. The timeline is to have a new manager hired within 60 days, she said.


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