Reorganization, outsourcing recommended to sustain struggling Ann Arbor Housing Commission
The public body that oversees more than half of the affordable housing stock in the city of Ann Arbor may need an extreme makeover to remain viable.
A representative from an Ann Arbor management consultant firm gave a report to city officials tonight, recommending a reorganization and partial outsourcing of services to sustain the struggling Ann Arbor Housing Commission.
"By not supporting the Housing Commission, it's really in my view a detriment to affordable housing," Jayne Miller, the city's Community Services Area administrator, told City Council members at tonight's working session.
Consultant Kerry Laycock said he looked at the future viability and sustainability of the Housing Commission and found the majority of the public housing stock is outdated and poorly maintained. He also said supportive services are "limited and not meeting the current needs of residents."
According to Laycock's report - on behalf of the firm Schumaker & Co. - the Housing Commission acts as an "isolated agency with limited involvement in community initiatives" and "operates in a state of constant instability."
Housing Commission Chairman Alan Levy and the consultant agreed that's largely because HUD consistently has underfunded housing programs. And HUD's funding decisions often are made later in the year, leaving the city little time to react to adjust spending.
However, Laycock said the city also has a bad track record of securing funding from sources other than HUD. That has left the city unable to provide badly-needed support services to meet growing needs from residents and has deferred important maintenance and modernization of the housing stock, he said.
"So it's really sort of been scrambling to make do with the funds that are available, and in a sense, falling further and further behind," Laycock said of the Housing Commission. "When we looked, there was no evidence of a planning process. The Housing Commission board has focused - and for good reason over the past two years - on the operational challenges of the organization to the neglect of future planning and strategy development."
Laycock said Ann Arbor is about 10 to 20 years behind benchmark housing commissions in terms of redevelopment and modernization of the public housing stock. He said public housing in Ann Arbor lacks proper management and the resources to maintain an aging housing stock. Specifically, he said, the city's Section 8 program currently has insufficient oversight.
The consultant found that the Housing Commission - "sort of forgotten" - may not be sustainable as an independent entity and may require a closer relationship with the city.
One of the consultant's recommendations is to more clearly define qualifications for future Housing Commission appointees and strengthen the selection process.
The Housing Commission's governing board is a five-member body appointed by the mayor. Council Member Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward, who serves as a liaison to the board, agreed at tonight's working session that the last year has been challenging for the Housing Commission.
"We're not out of the woods," he said.
Before concluding his report, Laycock offered five strategic objectives for the City Council to consider, which include:
â€¢Â Rehabilitating and redeveloping public housing properties. â€¢ Expanding funding beyond HUD. â€¢ Strengthening resident support services. â€¢ Strengthening management oversight. â€¢ Improving internal efficiencies and process performance.
To achieve those goals, the consultant recommends the city hire an executive director with development and financing experience. That person would focus on strategic planning, major rehabilitation projects and redevelopment.
Laycock also recommends having a full-time deputy director to focus on operations and grant writing, and another program manager to specifically deal with Section 8 housing.
Another recommendation - one Laycock acknowledged has the potential to be controversial - is the outsourcing of the Housing Commission's maintenance services. By doing so, the consultant claims it could substantially improve facilities management, improve maintenance services and reduce unit turn-around time - all at the same or reduced cost.
According to the report, the maintenance overhaul would mean the elimination of two temporary positions and the transfer of four union workers to other city jobs.
In all, the staffing changes could cost the Housing Commission an additional $228,163 beyond the current budget. The consultant is recommending making the changes and beginning an executive director search process immediately.
Miller said since the city is committed to providing affordable housing options in Ann Arbor, it should take actions to preserve the existing stock. She said Ann Arbor's housing commission oversees more than 350 public affordable housing units. In addition, it supplies 1,200 subsidy vouchers that people use to pay rent at private landlord properties.
Levy said how HUD was funded and managed under the last half of the Bush administration was "painfully difficult," and communities like Ann Arbor still are dealing with the repercussions of decisions made then. He said it's essential to the future health of the Housing Commission and the residents that it serves for the city to "get off the dime" that it's on and consider the consultant's recommendations.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.