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Posted on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Council members upset over Ypsilanti Housing Commission director's 'over-the-top' salary

By Tom Perkins

Ypsilanti Housing Commission director Walter Norris receives a base salary higher than the city manager, significantly higher than Ann Arbor’s housing commission's director, and he has received substantial raises during his eight year tenure.

That has sparked anger among some City Council Members as his contract came to light several weeks after federal reports condemned the YHC’s management and finances.

This year, Norris will receive a base salary of more than $105,000, a full health care package and use of a vehicle.

Responding to his critics, he says he believes he has vastly improved at the YHC since starting.

When Norris was hired in 2003, he was paid $70,000, meaning the housing commission board of commissioners has approved $35,000 in raises over eight years.

The outgoing and incoming Ann Arbor Housing Commission directors are each paid $88,000, and City Manager Ed Koryzno earns a base salary of $95,000, though he earns more with his pension and retirement.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city of Ypsilanti recently issued reports critical of the YHC’s management, finances and its physical properties. HUD’s sustainability report, which branded the agency as “troubled”, is requiring a number of corrective measures over the next six months or the agency could potentially install contracted management to run the YHC.

In its sustainability report, HUD labeled Norris’s salary “excessive.”

Council Member Pete Murdock called the salary “over the top and outrageous” but, despite outrage from several council members, there is little the council can do about Norris’s salary.

The YHC and Norris's salary is funded entirely by HUD and his salary is determined and voted on by the YHC Board of Commissioners, which is a separate legal entity from the city. That means city council cannot decide how much Norris makes.

The commissioners are nominated by Mayor Paul Schreiber and approved by City Council.

Deborah Strong, who is the longest serving housing commissioner and has been on the board since Norris was hired, said the board is taking a serious look at his salary. Strong said commissioners have been calling comparable-sized housing commissions around the sate and inquiring about their executive directors’ salaries since the sustainability report was issued.

She said Norris’s pay is higher than those the board has contacted, but underscored that the commissioners are continuing to do research.

She said Norris hasn’t received a raise in several years and his raises were originally based on the cost of living index. Raises are also contingent on performance reviews from the board.

Prior to Norris being hired, the YHC’s executive director earned $56,000 annually. Eric Temple, the YHC’s administrative specialist, now earns more than $61,000. Norris was hired in at $70,000 because of his previous experience as a housing commission director in Galveston, Texas.

The $35,000 in raises breaks down to a 6.8 percent increase annually. Records show that from 2003 to 2006, his salary increased by $10,000, then another $8,000 in 2006. His last raise came in 2009, which was for $4,000.

Strong said she didn’t know what corrective action commissioners might take, but said they are considering several options.

“We are not taking this lightly and we are doing our due diligence,” she said.

“I will say the commission collectively is concerned. We are having good discussions about this, and as in any situation, no individual is all bad or good. There have been huge successes this year, but there are some huge liabilities and issues that we have to take into consideration.”

Council Member Brian Robb expressed frustration with the Board of Commissioners for approving the salary hikes.

“The audacity of the housing commissioners to give those kind of raises is sickening,” he said.

Norris said he isn’t the one to judge if his salary is excessive or not, but highlighted his successes since he has been in Ypsilanti. Among those are the renovation of the Paradise Manor housing project and the $18 million Hamilton Crossing redevelopment.

“We’ve brought to the city a project that will inject $18 million into the city’s economy,” he said. “I don’t know how that compares to anyone else in the city, I just know the one we have been involved in is bringing in funds, jobs, improvements to the housing, and that’s part of my job.”

When asked about his salary compared with the director of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, Norris said he didn’t know what kind of experience the director had, but highlighted his long resume. It includes 35 years as a housing director, he said.

Ann Arbor hasn’t seen the scale of redevelopment projects that Ypsilanti has seen, though Ann Arbor also manages over 100 more units. Additionally, critics contend, the AAHC is not perfect but not working through a sustainability plan with HUD.

Schreiber served on the Housing Commission when Norris was hired and said he felt a $70,000 entry salary was appropriate, as were the first several raises because of improvements at the agency during that time. He said he agreed with the HUD sustainability report's assessment that Norris's salary is now too high.

A director could be worth $105,000 annually if the housing commission is run well Schreiber said, but he didn't think the YHC is run that well.

"I think the issue is not the salary but the performance of the housing commission," he said, adding that he believes the commissioners are serious about addressing the situation.

Council Member Ricky Jefferson said he thought the salary "undeniably high" and said it needed to be justified by more than words.

But he also said council is limited in what action they can take at the moment.

"I can only believe the facts and one fact is all members in council are evaluating the (HUD reports) that we received," he said. "We have to wait to do anything, but we will act in the interest of the city."



Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 4:37 a.m.

This is ridiculously unbelievable. The commissioner and the 'administrative specialist' together make at least $160 plus benefits and perks such as a 'company car'? And he had the audacity to say that it's because of his level of experience and the area he serves? If that's the case Paradise Manor would have received more than just a sidewalk and a playground. What about actual upgrades to the units? What about new windows, durable and sustainable flooring or appliances that actually work and match one another instead of pieces moved from unit to unit as they break down and get repaired? They may have named it Paradise Manor, but it's more like the 'Hole in the Wall' with one way in and one way out. And this is his shining mark of progress for YHC? How many years have Hamilton Crossings sat near abandoned, abandoned and falling apart? If they were kept up and monitored by the City in the first place it never would have to be an issue of redevelopment. Now, this will be another tickmark on his resume that he can use to fleece another community.

Tom Perkins

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:39 p.m.

@paulyd The HUD reports aren't available online.

Amber Siebert

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 5:24 p.m.

The Ypsilanti Housing Commission recieves just over $210,000 annually from HUD. How much is left to go to operations and improvements?

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 6:13 p.m.

That's OK. All these high salaries and benefits will be paid for when Ypsilanti enacts an income tax. This is what the city recommends, no?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:08 a.m.

The story makes it clear that the Housing Director's salary is paid by Federal money, so your point is irrelevant.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

Tom, Could you please provide a more specific link to HUD reports? Couldn't access them through hyperlink in article.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

Why is it that people who are suppose to be watching the public till only find something outrageous when it becomes a public scandel? It seems to me that we need to have a better system of vetting individuals who desire to sit on quasi government boards, accountability procedures for those we select to watch over our interest and methods of dismantling them when appropriate. e The Ypsilanti Housing Commission led by Deborah Strong for the last 20 plus years should have been more on top of things. This is negligence pure and simple. This is what happens when you have an apathetic, uninformed, poorly prepared staff, poor community leadership and individuals who are only interesting making a buck to represent poor people. Sounds like Wayne County to me.

Ron Granger

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

Use of a vehicle? There is so much abuse of that. With gas prices where they are, that must stop across the board. Employees can check a vehicle out when they need it, for job related use only. I know of a woman who gets a Ford Excursion. Taxpayers buy all her gas. All summer long she uses it to tow her boat all over Michigan. And since she doesn't pay for the gas, she's a "lead foot" with it. Government issued credit cards are another huge area of abuse. Gas cards and credit cards - their use needs extensive scrutiny. Oh yeah - sometimes people who get "free" gas siphon it out into other vehicles when they get home.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

Does Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor REALLY NEED a Housing Commission Director? Eliminating these two position frees up about a quarter million dollars. Just think of all the homeless, children and women this could feed and house?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:07 a.m.

Yes, they are needed to bring in much larger amounts of Federal support for housing, like the $18 million project mentioned in the story.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

Pretty sure they must or else federal dollars for public housing would not be forthcoming. Same old story though, the city owns the worst housing in the city.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

I wish public servants and their management spent as much time doing their jobs as they seem to do arranging nice pay, benefits, raises and perks for themselves.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

Were these people not astute enough to know what they were approving?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

I am not entirely sure what all is going on here but wow - that commission and exec dir are the single worst PR nightmare possible for a city governement that has prided itself on its transparancy and will be facing a financial take over of one kind or another.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

Franklin Hatchett, at the Pontiac Housing Commission, is paid more than Mr. Norris is being paid by the YHC. I also wonder if this is the same Walter Norris who previously was the Director at the PHC (? to 2001)?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

Where does the salary come from? $70K base + $10K raise (2003-2006) + $8K (2006) + $4K (2009) = $92K. Where does the other $13K in salary come from? This is also a far cry from the $360K that was recently uncovered in Massachusetts for the Chelsea Housing Authority's Director Mike McLaughlin who also resigned and then co-signed checks to himself for $200K for unused "vacation, sick time, and personal time". I know $105K pales in comparison, but it just goes to show that guidelines on salary are not being followed and the federal government is failing in it's job of regulation, once again.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

That last line should read: The fact that they have waited until 5 years after that shows that the federal government was negligent in their review. Also, I am still awaiting an answer as to where the other $13K in salary comes from. Editors? If you state a $35K increase, yet only provide $22K in salary data saying that the last raise occurred in 2009 ($4K), then are we to infer that Mr. Norris received $13K in salary increase in the years 2007-2009 (as all other years are accounted for since 2009 was stated to be the last year he received a raise)?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

@Epengar: 1) The federal government should be regulating salaries (HUD). 2) HUD should be providing guidance on salaries of employees, especially directors. 3) HUD should be reviewing salaries of directors annually and, in instances of salaries outside of guidance, should have inquiries on why that individual is entitled to such a salary. I.e. if the director is operating a housing authority vastly greater than the average size, perhaps allowance may be made. The federal government does have general guidance for salaries based on rank, and they even have adjustments for cost-of-living. Why should the local housing board ignore government guidance. The fact that in the first 3 years (2003-2006 inclusive) according to the article, Mr. Norris received over a 25% increase ($18K) is telling and HUD should have been tracking that and raised the issue almost 5 years ago. The fact that they have waited until 5 years after that shows that the federal government was negligent in their and review.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:05 a.m.

It was an audit by the federal government that identified the salary as high, and it is determined by a locally appointed commission. How is that federal government failing?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 12:20 p.m.

Good comments.

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.

dang... I'd like to have a firefighter or policeman for the price of that increase...


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 11:21 a.m.

Is he also collecting retirement pay from Galveston? Government workers should get retirement pay when they retire not so that they can double dip. We may not be able to change that for past retirees but we need to change that for the future.