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ARHA Faces Social Services Crisis

The myriad social services provided by Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority may soon become a thing of the past due to a denial by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund ARHA's annual request for a Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) grant.

HUD's refusal of ARHA's $350,000 request came in the form of a letter dated Feb. 3, signed by Iredia B. Hutchinson, director, PIH Grants Management Center, HUD. He stated "your application was determined ineligible for the following reasons:

. Application failed to meet the 25 percent Match Requirement

. The Memorandums of Understanding [MOU] "are not on organization letterhead"

. A discrepancy between the listed partner and the identified partner in the use of some of the funds

. The MOU from Inova Visiting Nurses Association Home Health is outdated

Although the denial of the ROSS grant was not listed on the agenda for ARHA's Monday night meeting, it came to light when Commissioner Carter Flemming questioned William Dearman, executive director, ARHA, about why the MOU had not been submitted on the proper letterhead.

Dearman answered, "They (HUD) were looking for ways to cut the program and they found it. We have had to fight for this funding every year. We will be meeting with HUD and will raise some questions."

It was pointed out by Dr. Archie Morris, director, ARHA Social Services, who oversees the application for the ROSS grant and the various ARHA social programs, that in the past ARHA was denied the grant "because HUD confused our application with that of Alexandria, Louisiana. When they discovered their mistake they gave us $100,000."

ARHA vice chairman, Carlyle "Connie" Ring, Jr., asked Dearman if a meeting had been set up with U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-8) to discuss HUD's action on this matter. When Dearman answered 'No,' Ring responded, "We should pursue this with vigor to try and get this grant."

Commissioner Shirley Marshall asked if HUD's procedures are reviewed every year to make sure there are no changes in application requirements. Dearman insisted they are.

Carter inquired, "Is there any chance of getting this funding restored this year if we make the changes they are requesting or is this year lost?"

Dearman responded, "We won't know until we meet with HUD."

Morris acknowledged, "Without this money there will be no social services provided by ARHA because we do not have the money.." He also insisted, "We submitted this grant proposal the same as we have all the others."

Morris explained the reason it was not on ARHA letterhead was because "there are partners in the program who work with us in carrying out many of the services." He cited The Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross, ALIVE, and National Capital Food Services as examples.

"The ROSS grant is to provide services to residents [of ARHA] that we can't get other agencies to provide," Morris explained. These include Home health aides, weekly and monthly food distribution, medication pick-up, help with entitlement applications, shopping trips, social security services and furniture items.

TWO CRITICAL programs to be impacted by the denial of these funds are the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program (PHDEP) and the Family Resource Learning Center. The latter has been hailed as a model endeavor for stimulating education among public housing children of all ages.

Morris noted, "The drug elimination program has been cut by HUD." He also pointed out the U.S.Department of Labor has abolished the Welfare to Work Program as of Sept. 30, 2003. ARHA's two case managers were terminated Oct. 4, 2003.

In his report to the Board, Morris said that under the ROSS grant, more than 700 ARHA residents receive various services on a monthly basis. "The ROSS program has helped more than 30 residents move toward economic self sufficiency..." his report stated. "Further, approximately 54 elderly and disabled persons have been able to maintain their housing independence because of the assistance afforded them through this program."

He clarified, ROSS monies for ARHA expired last Sept. 30, but the various programs have "been carried by ARHA until now." That can no longer be done due to ARHA's financial situation, according to Morris. The four persons assigned ROSS operations "have been given letters of termination effective Feb. 29, 2004."

ARHA's ROSS grant application was filed last June, Morris explained. HUD did not respond until their February letter. On Feb. 18, Morris attended a meeting with Alexandria City Manager Philip Sunderland and others in the city manager's office to explain the implications of HUD's action and verify ARHA could not afford to keep carrying the programs without the grant. He also informed Sunderland a debriefing meeting had been requested with HUD and both Virginia Senators and Congressman Moran had been made aware of the situation.

In a memorandum to Dearman dated Feb. 19, Morris explained, "Mr. Sunderland said they would ask Rep. Moran to convene a meeting and invite the senators' staff to attend, and possibly HUD staff...The City will ... determine how they can help us with services and cash."

THE ARHA BOARD also debated a proposed vote to allow staff to negotiate a developer partner agreement pertaining to the revitalization of a portion of Glebe Park. The request was deferred which will effectively kill any chance of ARHA benefiting from state tax credits this year for the Glebe Park project.

As explained to the Board by Dearman in a Feb. 17, memorandum, "In order to compete for a 2004 allocation of tax credits for Glebe Park, ARHA must select a developer Partner." The deadline for the tax credits application to be in the hands of the Virginia Housing Development Authority [VHDA] is March 10.

ARHA can not act alone in applying for credits because "VHDA requires that applicants for 2004 Income Housing Tax Credits have completed at least three tax credit deals to be considered," Dearman explained in his memorandum. "Although ARHA has participated in three tax credit developments, two of them are not yet completed."

New Commissioner, Linda Cheatham, admitting her lack of background knowledge, objected to "the entire concept" of how Glebe Park was to be revitalized. She also questioned the wisdom of making decisions based on a deadline.

This brought a response from ARHA chairman A.Melvin Miller, who said, "If this is not passed tonight it will effectively kill any chance for tax credits on this project for this year." VHDA only considers applications once a year.

Dearman acknowledged that although there had been four requests for staff's RFP seeking a developer partner, there was only one response by the Feb. 17, deadline. It came from The Communities Group.

Dearman pointed out that in 2001 TCG had been successful in seven out of eight submissions for tax credits. He also noted, "TCG has extensive experience in the management of the tax credit program..."

However, Cheatham said she would not vote for approval, claiming that she disagreed with the theory behind the revitalization program citing her past experience as a FHA administrator.

Miller explained, "The only thing before the Board was a proposal to select a developer partner to apply for the tax credit" so they could meet the deadline. But he admitted that this would not scuttle the Glebe Park project.

Following the meeting, Miller said, "We were only dealing with a small portion of the Glebe Park project — less than 20 units. Problems with that project go a lot deeper. But they can be solved," he said.

"We've got to get with the city to make the same kind of commitment to Glebe Park that we did to Samuel Madden Homes," he said. Miller told his fellow Board members, "We eventually solved that problem and we'll do the same with Glebe Park."

As for Cheatham's arguments against the funding concepts for Glebe Park and interaction with the mortgage holder, Miller said, "She's way ahead of the process. This vote was only to try and get a developer partner. It had nothing to do with all the other things she raised."

But, her concerns were enough to bring about the vote to defer.

When it came to adopting the 2004 budget, Cheatham again proved to be a holdout, stating, "This is nothing more than a bunch of numbers. It doesn't tell me what is being spent where." She cited the lack of salary information and even the number of ARHA staff. Dearman verified ARHA presently has 87 on staff.

"The budget should have back-up documentation" in all categories Cheatham insisted. Miller said he was going to establish a budget group to "identify budget categories" and provide clarifying information "to answer questions."

He asked Board members to volunteer additional time to this working group. When Commissioner Marshall had suggested essentially the same type of small budget group in the late fall, Miller had argued against its creation. Her proposal was to have it bring budget clarification to the Board on a regular basis.

On a vote of seven in favor, with Cheatham abstaining, the 2004 operating budget of approximately $26.9 million was adopted. It provides a $532,000 net surplus, according Archie Alexander, who presented the fiscal blueprint in the absence of an ARHA finance director.