New Ferndale Housing Commissioners Dive In to Solving Problems

GallowayCollensTOPsunsetREVISEDNew Ferndale Housing dinos02sidelogo3Commissioners Dive In to Solving Problems

(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 24, 2015)

Residents in the Ferndale Housing program got their first glimpse of progress Wednesday afternoon as two new Housing Commissioners took part in their first meeting. Resident Ann Heler and Councilperson Dan Martin came to the table with a wealth of experience and an eagerness for fixing the problems that residents have been living with for years under the former administration.

Former Housing Director Deborah Wilson resigned after being arrested for breaking into senior citizens’ apartments to steal their prescription drugs in November. As her life spiraled even ctechadmore out of control, problems she left behind began to come to light. Residents’ voices have grown from hopeful, yet cautious, whispers to packed meetings and vocal demands for respect and change.

Though the Commission is an independent body, the Mayor of Ferndale appoints the Commissioners to serve. There is no oversight beyond that, however. Commissioners had been serving for many years and because the financial reports and building inspections passed, there was little reason for HUD or elected officials to suspect that residents were suffering.

With Wilson gone, the complaints were abundant. The Commission ignored the right of the public to comment at public meeting and even denied access, changed schedules and locations, kept the doors locked and turned people away. Resident groups were disbanded and common areas like the twist_club01library were locked with warnings given to those who would have unauthorized meetings. New residents say they were cautioned against socializing with neighbors, and the resident handbook institutionalized that those who complained were considered disruptive, and could be written up and possibly be evicted.

Added to the pressure for complacency were problems such as bedbug infestations, lack of air conditioning, maintenance issues, costs of basic items, confusion and lack of assistance when navigating Section 8 and other programs and more.

In response to the problems, Mayor Dave Coulter and City staff began exploring their options for how best to make sure the residents’ needs were being met. HUD was also informed of the complaints and came in to do a full review of the organization. The results could be released gardenfreshADany day now.

City Attorney Dan Christ uncovered a precedent-setting case that allowed a City to have a member of the City Council on the Housing Commission. Once this was established, Coulter was able to appoint Councilperson Martin to fill the seat of a Commissioner who had resigned. And Heler came on when another’s term ended.

Wednesday was their first meeting, and the new Commissioners have already begun making and proposing changes.

Changes include:

~The meeting times have been changed to be more accessible for commissioners and members of the general public, and will now start at 5pm instead of 4pm on the third Wednesday of each month. Meeting locations will alternate between both residential properties: Autumn House and Withington West. The June 17, 2015 meeting will be at Autumn House.ferndale_pride_2015_02

~They have instructed current Acting Director Emily Vickey to put meeting agendas, board packets, and minutes on the organization’s website,

~They have also asked that the website be updated to be more informative for people seeking Housing Commission services. Some examples include adding FAQs and including public documents.

~Martin proposed that a document be created listing all of the concerns raised by residents, and columns to document how and when those concerns have been addressed.

~Martin raised concern over the delay in financial reporting and instructed that financial candlewickshoppeADbluereports be given to the board in a timely manner, and that the accountant come to a meeting to discuss the reports.

~The commission instructed Vickey to put out an RFP for cable services and wireless internet for both buildings.

There are also proposed changes that the Commission will be voting on at the June 17 2015 meeting.

The proposed changes include:

~Expanding the number of Commissioners to 7 and ensuring that one resident from each building be on the Commission.711 ad pizza

~Removing language that bars someone from City Council from sitting on the Commission, which is because the City found legal precedence to allow it.

~Remove the Director/Acting Director from serving as the Commission Secretary.

The meeting was packed with residents and people from Detroit Eviction Defense who have been helping residents stand up for their rights. The group is concerned with the $130,000 payout given to Wilson after she had been convicted of two home invasion felonies and one count of drug possession. They are also concerned that there have been no changes in the rest of the management team since Wilson’s resignation.

Residents shared their concerns, and seemed relieved as the new Commissioners listened and Sahara ad with winegave responses. Martin assured the crowd that policies and procedures would be reviewed as they get to know their new positions better.

The only thing that seemed out of place was the unexpected announcement that there would be a June 1 public hearing to review a change in policy regarding property inspections for Section 8 voucher holders.

The policy issue is a complicated one. The Housing Commission had been sued because it revoked vouchers to two women based on neighborhood blight. The Commission voted to settle those suits, eliminate the policy which goes above and beyond the typical HUD requirement, and reinstate vouchers for the women.

The administration then failed to make the necessary changes and initially refused to honor the dickeys_graduation_ad_ferndalereinstatement of payments to one of the women, again claiming she had failed due to blight. The attorney for the woman then returned to the Commission to ask that their previous vote be enforced.  Instead the Commission did a new vote to reinstate the voucher and remove only the one part of the requirements that specifically impacted that case, not the entire policy.

Commissioner Paul Stewart and then-President Don Wiggins made it clear to Vickey that the women involved be able to stay in her home without any more inspections or problems for at least a year. However, the woman’s attorney now says that someone in Vickey’s office called the woman’s landlord and complained about her. The attorney also questioned why the commission is having a public hearing at all when the policy has already been voted on – twice.

Vickey stated that the Commission decided at the last meeting to set up the public comment nicholas-schrock-allstateperiod and public hearing, although the minutes do not reflect this discussion.

When asked to provide copies of this proposed policy change, Vickey said she did not have them with her.

Public notice of the hearing had been posted in the hallway and in the announcements section of the City Hall bulletin board, but does not include the language of the proposed change. Nor can any information be found on the Housing Commission website.

A FOIA request sent immediately after the Wednesday has not yet been fulfilled, with Vickey’s response being that she would send it next week.Detroit_GT_ad04

The attorney for the woman who has been struggling for resolution said that the lawsuit against the Ferndale Housing Commission is still pending. “They’ve paid the back rent and she has her voucher now, but part of the settlement was to change their policy so it is in line with HUDs and they’ve not done that. And with them calling her landlord we don’t know if she can trust them to honor what they said and let her live there, or if they’re going to keep trying to find ways to kick her out of the program,” said attorney Bob Day.

The hearing is scheduled for June 1, 2015 at 9am in Withington West.  It is unknown if the HUD report, which is expected to include a broader policy review, will be out before that meeting or new way 01 ping pongnot.

As the meeting came to a close, the new Commissioners stuck around to personally meet residents. They’d prepared for the meeting by talking with staff, making site visits, requesting documents, and talking with residents during their tours.  They let residents know they were there to help.

“This was a good first meeting,” Heler said. “The tenants are very articulate. They know their issues. We have a lot of work to do, but we can do this.”

Resident Jennifer Bailey, who lives in Autumn House is optimistic. “This is the first meeting where this is the most we heard from you,” she said to the Commissioners. “Until now we would talk and ask questions and get no response.”

Martin also found the meeting productive. “I think we took several steps today that will help set lisa schmidt lawup a successful relationship between residents, employees and the Commission,” he said.

For previous Ferndale Housing Commission stories, see:











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