Albemarle City Council hears public housing issues, action plan

Published 9:44 am Friday, September 9, 2022

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Albemarle Public Housing Director Dr. Kim Scott appeared before City Council on Tuesday to present the department’s plan to correct issues concerning facilities operated by the department.

“I asked Dr. Scott to come forward tonight and give us a detail of his plan,” said Mayor Ronnie Michael, “then we want to set a meeting (Sept. 12) at which we want him to go into depth on several items we want to bring forward to let the residents know what has occurred there in the last few years, what will occur, and what our plans are to handle the issues that we’ve heard.”

Scott noted that his presentation would be a synopsis of steps from a previous council meeting held on Aug. 15.

“We’re happy to know that we are all going to work together to develop a plan and to hear the plan of action for public housing,” noted Scott, before referencing various concerns from public housing residents which were brought forward at the Aug. 15 meeting.

Scott categorized these concerns in two areas.

“I listed concerns with simple things such as mold, sewer problems, etc. in one column, and listed items that were related to policies and procedures, things we need to take care of and be concerned about, in the other,” Scott said.

Scott continued by outlining the department’s annual plan and five-year plan, with emphasis on solutions to issues brought about by residents in recent weeks.

“We will be talking a lot about modernization,” said Scott, noting two areas (mold that contributes to resident illnesses and sewer and plumbing issues) as priorities for correction.

“On Friday, Aug. 12, the housing facilities maintenance team met with Wayne Stogner of Stogner Architects for about six to eight hours to develop cost-effective modernization plans for 20 units that are currently offline for vacancy turn-around and sewer issues,” Scott said.

Other items of concern included security issues, inoperable appliances, HVAC repairs and pest control.

“Warranties on a number of HVAC systems had run out because they had not been serviced in six years,” stated Scott, who added that regular pest control treatments had also been discontinued.

“The pest control company was still under contract, so I had to contact them and have the treatments resumed,” said Scott, who added that a breakdown in communication during personnel transitions had caused the discontinuance.

Scott also noted that 24 units are unoccupied in preparation for modernization and refurbishment including mold testing and abatement, sheet rock repair and replacement, floor, ceiling and cabinet replacement, as well as painting, appliance replacement and incidental repairs.

“Our current vacancy turnaround has cost us between $8,000 and $12,000,” he said, but added that efforts will be made to reduce this cost to $3,000 to $5,000 per unit, with the goal of modernizing 20 apartments annually.

Some concerns expressed by residents regarding policies and procedures included not holding resident council meetings and a general lack of response to resident complaints. Scott noted that personnel transitions have contributed to these issues, and that with the department’s resident services and maintenance positions now filled, these issues would be corrected.

Other concerns listed included safety and security, and accountability of funds.

“As far as safety and security, I’ve met with (Albemarle Police) Chief Bollhorst so that we could make sure that we address the issues with the residents,” said Scott. “Because of manpower, I know that he is very busy, but we communicate often to ensure that we can address the plan. He (Bollhorst) wants to be around when the kids get off the bus, and I think that’s a great time for him to be visible.”

“We are also planning events in which we can come together and have the police officers there in the community to get to know the residents, and the residents get to know the officers,” he added.

“The accountability of operations and capital funds raises the concern, ‘Where’d the money go?’ ” Scott stated, before presenting a schedule of expected funding for fiscal years 2022-2026.

For fiscal year 2022, capital funding for the public housing department is $724,485, with funding for fiscal years 2023-2026 expected to be $578,517 each year.

“Those (2023-2026 amounts) may increase,” Scott said. “We are not considered a troubled housing authority, but since we are having some issues and concerns with building, that may fare well — HUD may give us some grace and provide us with additional funding over the years as long as we are responsible for what we’re spending now.”

Scott informed council members that the waiting list for public housing sits at 314 persons.

“This will be updated,” said Scott, noting that regular checks with those on the list had not been performed in some time.

“The list currently includes some deceased individuals, some that cannot be reached and some that have been on the list for six to 10 years,” he added, stating that the list is closed as the updates are being performed.

Monthly rental amounts, which vary according to factors such as renter’s income and employment status, had also not been updated, according to Scott.

“After performing an audit through my own office, I’ve discovered that our rents have not been correct,” he said. “We have re-certified 80 renters right now, and of the 80, only six of those rents were correct, and there was no documentation in the files to determine why these particular rents were what they were.”

Scott continued by citing some examples.

“We had residents paying $223 who actually should have been paying $600, and we had some paying $600 who should have only been paying $50,” he said. “I now have about 120 more to go through to make sure we key those properly and get the proper documentation so we can address and provide the correct rents with our residents.”

Reaction by council members to the reports of incorrect rents, failure to update the waiting list and other resident concerns was sharp.

“This (incorrect rental amounts) has been going on for how long?” asked Councilman Bill Aldridge.

“It was going on when I got here,” replied Scott. “Residents have to be re-certified regularly, and what the resident housing manager was doing was certifying everyone July 1.

“That’s not proper protocol for HUD,” he added. “The re-certifications are supposed to be done on the anniversary date the individual moved in.”

“In my opinion, this would be considered like a state of emergency,” Councilman Dexter Townsend said. “This is more serious than it sounds, when it’s affecting the livelihoods of so many residents.”

“I was called by some residents, and I was appalled at some of the things I heard from them,” added Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall. “If things have been as bad as it appears they have been, someone should have known about it…something should have been done…we should not be here right now, hearing this for the first time.”

Councilman Benton Dry stated, “I don’t disagree, but let’s try to keep this in a bigger circle of what’s going on here. There’s a problem, it’s recognized, we’re going through it and it doesn’t make any difference — it’s here today and we have to take advantage of what’s available to us to make good decisions on how to move forward … let’s focus on what we’ve got to fix.”

Scott expressed gratitude to council members for their willingness to move forward.

“We want to strengthen communications between housing staff and city council,” said Scott, “and I’m appreciative of you all coming together and addressing these concerns as we bring them forward.”

Scott and Michael announced a town hall meeting with residents. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday at the E.E. Waddell Community Center.