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Posted on Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Federal report raises questions about Ypsilanti Housing Commission's management, finances, property

By Tom Perkins

Many properties managed by the Ypsilanti Housing Commission were recently unfit for occupancy, according to a city report and a recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report that also raises questions about the commission's leadership and its finances.

HUD listed dozens of issues with YHC leadership, its Board of Commissioners, the agency’s financial management and the condition of its properties.

The report, completed in September, cites property problems discovered in 2009 and management problems uncovered in April 2011.

YHC Executive Director Walter Norris acknowledged that some of the commission's properties still have problems but disputed much of HUD's recent report, saying many of the issues have been corrected.

A HUD “sustainability report” outlining the issues was provided to the Ypsilanti City Council last month. The report, which HUD officials said was drafted on Sept. 26 after the April investigation, included a six-month time frame for rectification of each issue and listed the corrective measures the YHC must take. The City Council was asked to approve the plan so the YHC could begin responding to and reviewing issues with HUD.


Ypsilanti Housing Commission Executive Director Walter Norris

Tom Perkins | For

But council members were upset they were provided a report with a litany of serious issues only an hour before the meeting. The resolution was ultimately tabled until a November meeting so council members could review the sustainability report.

HUD delivers federal funding to local housing commissions that manage property for low-income residents, and the agencies must comply with strict HUD guidelines and standards.

HUD listed a number of issues, including:

--A failure by the YHC Board of Commissioners to provide proper oversight of the agency and its finances.

--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.

Laura Feldman, a Chicago-based public affairs representative for HUD, said she couldn’t provide specifics on what the department found in many cases.

“This situation is very serious,” Feldman said.

If the issues aren’t corrected within the allotted six-month timeframe, Feldman said, YHC could face debarment, civil monetary penalties or governance intervention, which could lead HUD to install contracted management.

But Feldman said some of the accounting issues could be attributed to YHC administration not having proper documents on hand the days HUD staff inspected the agency. If the YHC presents information that HUD previously requested but wasn’t immediately available during inspection, then HUD will consider the issue resolved.

For example, Norris said the missing $20,000 was spent on fencing placed around the Hamilton Crossing project and refreshments provided for tenants at social functions. He said the paperwork wasn’t available the day HUD inspected the agency, but that issue will be cleared up once evidence is provided in the response.

In 2009, HUD also found a number of physical issues with the YHC properties. Feldman reported the YHC’s score was substandard.

“Significantly below substandard. The score was not good,” Feldman said.

But she added that YHC received passing marks in HUD’s 2010 physical inspection.

City inspections of the property were performed in 2008 and, more recently, from November 2010 through March 2011. In 2008, building inspectors found only 20 of 191 YHC units were “compliant.”

Though no similar assessment was made of the subsequent review earlier this year, building inspectors did find 1,182 code violations at the YHC properties — an average of six at each unit. They ranged from cosmetic items to structural issues.

YHC was supposed to be providing the city with quarterly progress reports on how it was addressing building code violations, but failed to do so.

YHC’s Response

Norris maintained that HUD's findings were from a 2009 assessment and that many of the issues have already been corrected. HUD officials said the physical assessment was completed in 2009 and the management assessment was done in April 2011.

Norris said he can’t send his responses and progress updates to HUD until Council approves the sustainability plan. Once that is provided to HUD, Norris said, many of the problems will be considered resolved.

He also said some of the issues HUD listed occurred because the federal agency sent several different teams of people to inspect the housing, causing confusion. Norris also said he didn’t agree that the salaries are excessive, but said every issue would be corrected regardless.

He acknowledged there is room for improvement in some areas.

“What we’re going to do is move to eradicate all the items HUD had concerns about,” Norris said. “It does us little good as an agency to say we don’t agree. They’re the ones with the rules. What we will do is comply with the comments they made and put into effect the recommended changes and get those items cleared within the six months they’re asking them to be done in.”


Improvements have been made at Paradise Manor.

Tom Perkins | For

In response to HUD’s charges that many of the units were in poor condition, Norris said the assessment was skewed by the fact that the Paradise Manor housing project was undergoing renovations at the time and some of the units had been damaged by fire.

He said that caused the slow turnover rate and lowered YHC’s occupancy rate. HUD reported that the YHC's occupancy rate was at 89 percent, though Norris says it’s now at 99 percent.

Norris also said 1,050 of the 1,182 code violations the city had found were corrected, leaving 132 violations. He also said 74 properties have been completely rehabilitated. Many of the 132 remaining items include costly projects such as cement replacement, parking lot repair or roof replacement, which Norris said the YHC simply can’t afford at the moment.

Norris, who has been with the agency since 2003, said the physical deterioration was already well under way before his arrival.

Norris’s previous employer

Meanwhile, the HUD findings have placed a spotlight on Norris' performance as executive director of the Galveston, Texas Housing Authority in the 1990s. Norris was fired from that job in 1996 "amid allegations of misappropriated funds, unaccounted for money and poor management," according to the Galveston Daily News.

Norris said charges leveled against him in Galveston had no credibility, saying the independent consulting firm hired by the Housing Authority to assess his performance had no experience in assessing public housing agencies. He later sued the Board of Commissioners for the firing but a judge dismissed the lawsuit.

According to the judge’s ruling in the case, an independent consultant had determined GHA was not “being run in a business like manner in regards to its finances and management."

It reported the Galveston Housing Authority staff members were not open to the public and that financial information presented to the board was “inadequate, unclear, incomplete and if provided, not done so in a timely manner.”

The report said Norris made several major decisions without proper financial planning, asserted that the Housing Authority had inadequate internal accounting controls and found that GHA funds had been used to support a group called the Minority Leadership Program, which had been involved in local political matters.

Once the report was provided to the GHA Board of Commissioners, they voted to fire Norris.

Norris said there is substance to the issues that need to be corrected in Ypsilanti, but said he “gives the stuff in Galveston zero credibility.”

“That was a different situation,” he said.

Norris also questioned the judgment of the judge who dismissed his lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, who was impeached by Congress several years later and imprisoned after he lied to investigators about sexual assaults on his staff members.

Moving forward

The Ypsilanti City Council will likely vote on approving the sustainability plan at its November meeting. Mayor Paul Schreiber, who once served on the housing commission, said communication between council and the council-appointed housing commissioners needs to improve.

Both sides need to ensure the timeline’s goals are met and the commission is taken out of troubled status, he said. He added that it is especially crucial as the multi-million dollar redevelopment of the Hamilton Crossing housing project continues.

“We didn’t have as good of communication as we should have both ways,” he said. “I’ve been talking to commissioners, and I think that they understand that the Housing Commission must get out of troubled status and I think they’re moving to that end and with HUD’s help.”

Council Member Ricky Jefferson, who serves the first ward, where much of the public housing is located, said the council needs to take the time to assess the information and see if the Housing Commission moves to correct the issues.   Renee Smith, a member of the Ypsilanti Housing Board of Commissioners since 2010, said she had no knowledge of the commission’s status with HUD prior to the report. She said she felt the corrective plan has been rushed and the commission needs to improve its very basic administrative process and bookkeeping, which appears to be substandard.

Smith said she doesn’t believe Norris should be fired because that would jeopardize the Hamilton Crossing project.

But she said she is in favor of some punitive measure and suggested a probationary period or docking Norris’ pay. The idea was floated, Smith said, but no other commissioners supported them. Regardless, the issues will be corrected, she said.   “I’ll take the beating with them for now, but I’m not going to be a part of anything that appears substandard or fraudulent,” Smith said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for


Bob Needham

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 9:19 p.m.

A comment was temporarily removed while we verify information it contains.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 11:57 p.m.

What about the $ 420 000 waterbill from 2010 for all the housing?

Tom Perkins

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 11:27 p.m.

Housing Commissioner Renee Smith now says there is no severance package. Her statement regarding the alleged severance package has been removed from the story.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 11:37 p.m.

OK, so Houdini is back alive again? Here then gone....... magic!! Gotta love how things "change".


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 10:46 p.m.

Does the severance package payout if he is fired for poor performance? It would be logical, which I know is a foreign term when it comes to government, that severance would not be due when fired for performance or ethical reasons.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

Renee Smith says he should not be fired because 200 grand severance but he should be punished somehow. How about firing him and not giving him 200 grand severance. The fact that all these "severence" packages are coming into view becasue incompetent administrators are being fired, begs the question, why aren't there clauses negating the contract for incompetence, criminal, or unethical behavior? Who's vetting these contracts and the personnel being hired? they should be fired too!


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

Since when does HUD allow funds to be used for residents refreshments? Sad!


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 6:46 p.m.

now, now....the receipts aren't available yet, so we don't REALLY know what that is all about, there may have very well been some thirsty people....@cinnabar7071...Hope and Change? how funny...wonder how many are still hoping for that change? ;o]


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

Hope And Change. LOL! More like Same old, Same old.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

Another perfect example of government agencies, local and national, that can't run efficiently. Do away with HUD and all of it's dependencies.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

If the bookkeeping is substandard, and the "accounting staff" is qualified for the respective positions, chances are the documentation has not been made available...but I would question, no demand, documentation on anything that didn't add up. This sloppiness is unacceptable and causes me to wonder if expenditures without backup paperwork are less than legitimate. But typical government gibberish...can't fire an incompetent because the cost would harm a much financial damange could be inflicted by the incompetent that would be kept on the job?


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

"...Texas Housing Authority in the 1990s. Norris was fired from that job in 1996 "amid allegations of misappropriated funds, unaccounted for money and poor management," That and your mayor appointed him?!? What's wrong with you voters letting these two run things?


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

YOu are kidding me?!! Nobody is worth that much money. Thats the same severence package that got Turkia Mullin fired from the Airport and shook up Wayne County's government. The difference in scale between Wayne County government at the Ypsilanti Housing Commission is...this is obscene!!! Who negotiated that employement agreement?


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

Nope, I want a little more info on this. I get the president approved it - I wants to know who all was involved and the legal advice given at the time. I get the president approved it. As I understand it - HUD, The entire board, and I am guessing City Council may have had roles. I want more info.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:39 p.m.

whoever was president and commissioners of the housing commission back then. i'm pretty sure it was paul schreiber and most of the people listed on their website. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

its situations like this that kill any chance Ypsi has for a turnaround! How can you ask taxpayers for more money (taxes) when corruption or lack of oversight is so prominent. White collar corruption is the primary reason people have no faith in government.

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

These &quot;dozens&quot; of problems were first discovered on 2009... and management problems discovered in 2011. This suggests a pattern and practice. At what point do you refer it to a prosecutor for a criminal investigation with power of subpoena? Since the director was not forthcoming to HUDs requests for information.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

Not sure who develops these employment contracts, but no doubt some crafty Attorney. All this should be turned over to MSHDA and given out to Private Management Groups as they are the ones locally that do the best job of ensuring compliance with standards. As a lifetime resident of the are for the last 50+ years, I seen both of Ypsilanti Housing projects redone over and over again. It was learned along time ago ( I thought) that it is better to let low income personnel move into the communities and become apart of them , than to move them into a bunch into City run Apartment complexes they they can not maintain. When is the last time Ypsilanti City did something right? Private Management groups are the way these HUD funds should be handled and there will be no $200,000.00 severance packages. I want to know who approved this Severance package, they should be right there next to soon toe be on trial Wayne County Executive.

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

We're gonna need to know more about these high salaries... And the workload. And how about HUD saying the director isn't responding to their requests for information? Is this Detroit or Ypsi? Or they synonymous?

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

A sunglass wearin' director of a public housing authority that has been found to underperform by HUD in 10 areas? And he makes $200K a year? And 8 of the 10 problems listed are with FINANCES and OVERSIGHT.

Chase Ingersoll

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:03 p.m.

Another excellent article by Tom Perkins. Mr. Norris exposes his own lack of competence. Any manager with his level of experience would know that if there are deficiencies in what you are managing as a result of legitimate obstacles, you document everything and routinely submit your reports to the board. Severance packages like this are to protect highly skilled managers who are going to be the bearer of bad news to city councils, school boards and housing boards. But what makes the media are all of the situations where incompetent, or worse people were given the same package that would be deserved by someone else. The last town I lived in had a very similar scandal. The root of this is the recipients of the funds, from the people who receive the housing, to the people supposed to be responsible for the funds see it as &quot;free money&quot; that was handed to them politically, after being taken from people that worked for it.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

What do you expect? Ypsilanti is run by a political party that says one thing and does the opposite! This is actually a resume enhancement for people involved, they will be tapped for higher office once the State changes political hands. i.e. goes democrat


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

The answer is we need more rules and regulations and more government employees to watch the ones we have. Oh, and lots of rich people to pay more taxes to make all of this work..............

Steve McKeen

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

Mayor Schrieber was president of the housing commission and hired Norris. The mayor has some explaining to do when it comes to this $200,000 severance package he authorized.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

$200,000 severance? Typical white collar public servant corruption. You know what kind of severance blue collar workers get? A &quot;You're fired&quot; and a &quot; You have 1 hour to remove your items from your desk then you will be escorted out of the building&quot;. This guy was hired even after the coucil found out about his alleged mismanagement in Galvston and they still wrote a $200,000 severance into his contract? Crazy, crazy, crazy. Wealthier, college-educated people seem to believe they are entitled to all this money simply because they paid a lot of money for a piece of paper from a &quot;University&quot; while blue collar people are entitled to being fired at will and must rely on unemployment benefits just to eat. I'll bet this overpaid genius has an excellent health insurance plan too courtesy of the local taxpayers. I bet he would say he deserves that too even though the majority of people around here have no health insurance because they cannot afford it. I would be interested in knowing how much this man is paid for the job he supposedly does for us. We as taxpayers really need to have review and oversight of ALL public employee contracts because this type of corruption and foolishness is leading us towards bankruptcy and EFM takeover. Whatever he does for the city/township is not worth $200,000 whether in severance or salary. Local gov't executive directors and whatever else you want to call them are depleting our resources severely with their grossly high salaries and payouts while low level public employees are getting fired and having their pay cut to make up for the shortfall. I guess that's what we deserve, huh?

average joe

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

Gee, with Mr. Norris' employment record, (any pre-employment background check??) and the 'standard' $200,000 serverance package, Ypsi could be annexed into Wayne county...