The regional director of the federal Housing and Urban Development wants Mayor Joe Ganim to “replace the mayoral appointments to the Board (of the Bridgeport housing authority) within a period not to exceed 30 days,” asserting a “history of board member interference in the daily operations of the agency and the inappropriate use of their authority to influence the award of contracts, the hiring of friends and family members and the provision of housing to family members outside of the required tenant selection policies.”
Suzanne Piacentini, director of HUD’s Hartford regional field office, wrote the mayor last week in a scathing review of the agency known now as Park City Communities that oversees a $51 million budget serving the housing needs of 12,000 residents
HUD officials have kicked up a review of the troubled housing authority citing in recent years management and financial issues.
“We are notifying you that the actions and omissions of the current Bridgeport Housing Authority members, who were appointed by your predecessor, give clear evidence that they do not meet the requirements needed to govern and oversee the BHA,” wrote Piacentini to Ganim.
The following board members Dulce Nieves, who serves as chair, Richard DeJesus, Rev. Sultan Stack Jr. and Janet Ortiz were appointed by former Mayor Bill Finch. Hadassah Nightingale is the resident commissioner. They serve as volunteers. Board members often becomes casualties–some argue scapegoats–when the federal agency that oversees public housing weighs in.
Piacentini also criticized the severance package the board granted former executive director George Byers that runs into January, charging “Despite concerns raised by both HUD and the City, the board authorized severance payments … that are unreasonable, have no legal basis and act as a demonstration of the Board’s failure to perform their fiduciary duties for the BHA. In addition, the Board failed to keep any records of any negotiations with George L. Byers regarding the status of his contract and provided false information to HUD as to who participated in these negotiations and when these negotiations occurred.”
Byers left after knocking heads with Ganim over security and other issues.
The HUD letter to Ganim, citing regulations, implores the mayor to revamp the board. Ganim is reviewing potential replacements to the board as he ponders HUD’s request.
The Bridgeport Housing Authority (BHA) receives federal funding in excess of $43 million dollars annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to serve the housing needs of low income people in Bridgeport. While the BHA functions with local independence on a variety of matters. the Agency. in carrying out its mission, must abide by its duties in the Annual Contributions Contract between HUD and BHA. its adopted policies and state and federal laws and regulations. To achieve this mission, the BHA requires a Board of Commissioners, to govern the agency, that are ready, willing, able and ethical.
On November 20, 2015, a Recovery Agreement was executed between the BHA, the City of Bridgeport and HUD due to the BHA’s status as a Troubled Agency. This Agreement and local law requires that the Mayor appoint and maintain a sufficient number of Board Members that the Mayor certifies are qualified to lead the Agency. This Agreement further states that:
“The City of Bridgeport, through its Appointing Authority, acknowledges the importance of effective governance as part of the recovery and sustainability of the Bridgeport Housing Authority. As a signatory of this Agreement, the City of Bridgeport commits to oversee and monitor its duly appointed agents, the appointees to the Bridgeport Housing Authority Governing Board, in the discharge of their duties. Upon the discovery of any failure of the Bridgeport Housing Authority Board to discharge its duties under this Agreement, City of Bridgeport will take all necessary steps to correct the Board’s actions or omissions and ensure compliance with the terms of this Agreement.”
We are notifying you that the actions and omissions of the current BHA Board Members, who were appointed by your predecessor, give clear evidence that they do not meet the requirements needed to govern and oversee the BHA. The reasons for our determination are the following:
· The BHA Board has social ties in the community but lacks the professional skill set and judgement to oversee a complex housing agency responsible for tens of millions of dollars of federal funds annually.
· The BHA Board has exercised unprofessional oversight of BHA management for several years that has resulted in instability, continued poor financial condition, deteriorating physical condition of properties, deteriorating security of BHA residents, numerous audit findings, increased legal action and settlements against the Housing Authority and violations of fair housing and employment laws.
· There has been a history of Board Member interference in the daily operations of the agency and the inappropriate use of their authority to influence the award of contracts, the hiring of friends and family members and the provision of housing to family members outside of the required tenant selection policies. Although the Recovery Agreement requires that this activity will no longer continue, BUD has received information that supports that some current Board Members continue these unethical and possibly illegal activities.
· BHA Board members lack fundamental knowledge of HUD programs and how these programs work in concert with other financing sources and partnerships. In the past few months, the Board’s refusal to cooperate with a refinancing of a property that contains 8 BHA public housing units and 8 project based vouchers units placed the units and the investment at risk of loss, as well as dealing a blow to the Agency’s credibility with local partners. During this process, BHA Board members adamantly held to a position that this project held no business or housing benefit to the organization and resisted both HUD’s and the City’s attempts to resolve the problem. After several months. the Board did approve the refinancing but it is unclear whether the investment can be saved.
· Poor management and planning has forced HUD to recapture redevelopment funds in the recent year due to BHA’s inability to put these funds to use in the community.
· The BHA Board of Commissioners failed to implement measurable performance standards for the Executive Director and to perform regular reviews of his performance, as required by the Recovery Agreement.
· The Board of Commissioners failed to properly manage the contract for George L. Byers, Executive Director. Despite concerns raised by both HUD and the City, the Board authorized severance payments to George L. Byers that are unreasonable, have no legal basis and act as a demonstration of the Board’s failure to perform their fiduciary duties for the BHA. In addition, the Board failed to keep any records of any negotiations with George L. Byers regarding the status of his contract and provided false information to HUD as to who participated in these negotiations and when these negotiations occurred.
· The current hiring process for a new Executive Director is not transparent to the full Board, BHA residents or to HUD. The full Board was not provided with information on all applicants nor were they involved in determining which applicants to interview. The Board was not given candidate packages in a timely fashion nor were they timely apprised of interview schedules. The Board violated Open Meeting laws by having the full Board conduct interviews without giving proper notice of a meeting. The Board also failed to seek appropriate input from the RAB and resident leaders and provided false information to HUD as to their actions in this area. The Board also misrepresented to HUD their willingness to share information about their process and determinations of applicant qualifications.
· The BHA fails to seek guidance from HUD and their own attorneys to avoid taking actions that harm BHA residents, partners, employees and applicants, evidencing that they do not have the proper ethics or willingness to oversee the Agency.
· The BHA Board does not submit materials to HUD when requested as required by the Recovery Agreement. In addition, the BHA Board has failed to ensure that the BHA meets the requirements of the Recovery Agreement within the prescribed timeframes.
In light of this, as the funder and federal regulatory body of the BHA and as required by the Recovery Agreement, we are requesting that you replace the Mayoral appointments to the Board within a period not to exceed 30 days. In so doing, we further request that you seek Board Members that are not only willing, able and ethical but who also possess the professional experience necessary to govern an Agency of this complexity and size.