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Posted on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

Federal officials, Ypsilanti City Council members will meet to discuss city housing commission's issues

By Tom Perkins

Members of the Ypsilanti City Council and top officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Detroit Field Office will soon meet to discuss financial and management problems at the Ypsilanti Housing Commission.

HUD issued a sustainability report in November outlining problems and mandated a corrective action plan to improve the agency.

The meeting will take place at 8:30 a.m. on March 20 in City Council chambers and is part of the ongoing dialogue between the city and HUD as they monitor improvements at the Housing Commission.

A first meeting between a City Council sub-committee, former City Manager Ed Koryzno and HUD officials took place in January.

According to a summary of the meeting provided by Koryzno to City Council, HUD cited the housing commission’s “unresponsiveness to requests for information, co-mingling of public housing funds and Hamilton Crossing funds, lack of management oversight and poor financial reporting.”

The March 20 meeting was originally scheduled as a meeting between Mayor Paul Schreiber and HUD officials, but Schreiber invited other council members. Because a quorum could be present, notice for a special meeting has been posted.

Schreiber said he is confident the Housing Commission is making progress on its sustainability plan.

“It seems as though things are getting done,” he said. “Items are getting checked off. I’ll be interested to see what HUD has to say about the amount of progress and pace of progress."


Walter Norris

Tom Perkins | For

If the remaining issues aren’t corrected, HUD officials previously said they could cut off the housing commission’s funding or bar Housing Commissioner Executive Director Walter Norris from serving at a public housing authority.

Among other issues listed in the sustainability report were:

  • A failure by the executive director to provide oversight of YHC programs.
  • A failure by Norris to respond to HUD requests for information.
  • Inadequate reporting on finances by the YHC to its Board, leaving the Board without enough information to provide oversight.
  • Approximately $20,000 in funds that are unaccounted for.
  • Poor and questionable accounting practices.
  • A lack of spending and accounting controls.
  • Excessive administrative salaries compared to other agencies.
  • A large number of vacant units.
  • A slow turnaround rate in getting new residents.

HUD and city council has also labeled Norris's salary of $105,000 annually "excessive."

The situation is complex because it involves a federal agency, a council-appointed board of volunteers, a housing commission and the city council. The ownership and oversight arrangements among the parties are unique, and how the situation plays out could affect the $18 million Hamilton Crossing public housing development.

The public housing stock is owned by the city but controlled and managed by the housing commission. The Housing Commission receives funding from HUD and, in return, it must adhere to extensive HUD guidelines and meet HUD standards.

The Housing Commission board members are appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council. The board should provide oversight of the commission and report to HUD.

City Council has no direct authority over Housing Commission administration. Only the Housing Commission board and HUD can remove the housing commission’s executive director or make changes to the administration.

Council Member Ricky Jefferson, who attended the initial meeting with Council Member Pete Murdock and Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson, said council has been receiving bi-weekly updates on progress.

"The upcoming meeting is one of the tools from the last meeting being implemented by HUD as a vehicle to help the YHC to achieve the goal of eliminating the agency's deficiencies and to give council relevant, hands-on insight into what actions HUD accept as necessary for progress,” he said. “Hopefully all parties will come out of this next meeting with a sense that more mutual commitment is needed to achieve as a realistic goal, higher standards at the YHC.”

HUD officials are also giving the Housing Commission’s Board of Commissioners additional instruction and training on the board’s responsibilities.

Lana Vacha, director of HUD's Detroit field office, said in January that HUD would help the board members better understand their roles and understand the management and oversight process.

“We present to them evidence and information we have to help them arrive at a decision,” she said.

In January, Norris said removing the executive director and cutting off funding are measures reserved for housing authorities in much worse condition than the YHC, and he said he and the Housing Commission are working with HUD.

"This a standard, potential consequence to non-compliance," he said. "HUD stated that they could withdraw block grant funds. That has always been a potential consequence of communities not being responsive to HUD. This housing commission does not fall into that category, nor do I as a director fall into the category of being barred."

HUD officials did note that the Housing Commission has made improvements to its physical stock.

HUD places troubled agencies into three category depending on the issues, Norris said. The issues at the YHC are expected to be corrected within six months, he said, and the agency is in the category that includes the least problematic commissions.

He said based on the latest report on the housing stock's physical condition and reports from the YHC's accountant, the YHC is not a troubled agency.

"I think HUD wants us to take them seriously, and we do take them very seriously," Norris said. "But I do not think from our scores that we are a troubled agency and feedback from our accountant doesn't indicate that we are troubled."



Sat, Mar 10, 2012 : 3:58 a.m.

--- more --- The citizens of Ypsilanti pay 10's if not 100's of thousands of dollars per year in direct and hidden costs and anytime anyone questions those costs or the way the organization is being run, Schreiber comes running to defend Norris and says there is nothing he can do, complain to HUD. The current chair of the YHC refuses to meet with anyone on council and won't ever return calls or answer questions about Board meetings, minutes, policies or decisions. They only thing she has said is Council is getting paid and she isn't so she doesn't want to meet or answer questions. And why is it the YHC board has more secret closed door meetings that all other groups in Ypsilanti combined. The board routinely meets in closed session, they did again this week, but takes no minutes and never comes out of session to discuss their decisions which is a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Yet the Mayor won't do anything about it.


Sat, Mar 10, 2012 : 3:57 a.m.

It was Mayor Schreiber when he was Chair of the Housing Commission that hired and now regularly defends Norris. Not even two weeks after Norris started working in Ypsi, Norris was interviewing for a Housing job in Florida. They even offerd him a job but then publicly withdrew the offer when it was learned Norris wanted the Housing commission to pay the health premiums for his ailing mother. After that request and a background check which uncovered the problems in Texas, Pontiac, and Detroit, Lansing and Jackson, the Florida commission withdrew their offer for employment. And don't believe anyone when they tell you YHC doesn't cost the City or Ypsilanti taxpayers, they do. Not only over sight and city staff and legal costs to deal with problems, there are council expenses, property inspections that are never paid for, audits, compliance reports, facilities and much more. Then there are the costs from building inspection, ordinance enforcement, police and fire because of continued problems at those properties and repeated calls for service when YHC doesn't take steps to remove residents that repeatedly break HUD rules. --- more ---

greg, too

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 6:39 p.m.

If I remember past articles about Norris, this is why he got canned from his job in Galveston. Good to see we hired a winner. Does anyone in the city actually do background checks anymore? <a href=""></a> We're threatening to fire police and fire department first responders if the city doesn't get its tax increase, which they are ramming through in May out of fear that people will come to their senses in a November vote, and then overpaying someone who can't do the job and who hires his felonious friends? It's almost comical.


Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 8:13 p.m.

right but that isn't our income or property tax money and after their nomination and approval from City Council, the board reports to HUD - not to anyone locally.


Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

Tom: When can I expect the article that cites Ypsi Township gas station employees that have criminal records, or the grocery store employees. Since a large percentage of people in Ypsilanti Township need to get their haircut lets throw the barbers and hair stylists in the mix too. You do care about my safety dont you Tom? Do you want me to unknowingly get my groceries rang up by a cashier that was convicted of a crime? How much time to do you need to do the research? How about I just get back in touch with you in a couple weeks.

Chase Ingersoll

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

&quot;The Housing Commission board members are appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council. &quot; And the Mayor and Council were of course elected by the Ypsilanti voters. Any Ypsilanti voter want to step up and take responsibility for helping elect a Mayor and Councilperson that approved these appointments? Chase Ingersoll


Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

This makes me wonder if the proposed 1% income tax on City residents being bullied through on May 8th will be suspended. Murdoch is quoted in the Eastern Echo as saying &quot;not to give the opposition even more time to organize&quot; when refering to the ballot issue taking place in November instead of June. City residents need to know about their future. Hopefully the Feds will halt it temporarily.