Robinson gets support for housing director post

Clarence Robinson

Morgan City Housing Authority employees and residents expressed their desire to find a way to keep Interim Director Clarence Robinson as the authority’s director, according to a letter read during Thursday’s board meeting.
Morgan City Housing Authority Accounting Technician Diana Pace read a letter written by the Morgan City Housing Authority staff and signed by residents asking the board to explore ways to continue to work with the Berwick Housing Authority and keep Robinson, she said. Robinson also serves as executive director of the Berwick Housing Authority.
Robinson has placed an emphasis on teamwork and sharing ideas, which has helped make positive changes to the housing authority, Pace said.
“We no longer have the designation of being a troubled agency,” Pace said in the letter.
Pace urged the board to check out its options, including continuing the inter-agency agreement with the Berwick Housing Authority, as the Kenner Housing Authority does with East Baton Rouge Parish, or setting up a regional board, Pace said. About 170 residents signed the letter, she said.
At Thursday’s meeting, the commission approved Board Chairman Victory Ho and Housing Authority Attorney Robert Duffy to explore the options presented in the letter provided by housing authority staff.
At January’s board meeting, the board approved a resolution for an inter-agency agreement with the Berwick Housing Authority that allowed Robinson to continue as interim director of the Morgan City Housing Authority for six months. The agreement will automatically renew for an additional 60 days unless either board terminates the agreement.
The Morgan City Housing Authority has been without an executive director since June 2013, when former Director Charles Spann resigned. Robinson has served as interim director since July 2013.
According to a December 2014 state audit report, housing authority employees, including Spann, were accused of receiving a total of roughly $700,000 in improper pay and bonuses between 2007 and 2013. Pace and Housing Manager Sandra Greene, who are still employed by the authority, received some of the improper pay and bonuses, according to the state audit report.
Duffy has not received any response yet from state or federal prosecutors as to whether they will pursue criminal prosecution in the matter, he said.
Regarding discussion of hiring a new director, Ho would like to keep the agreement with the Berwick Housing Authority that allows Robinson to be the Morgan City Housing Authority director for as long as possible, he said. However, the board needs to have a plan for what to do after that agreement ends, Ho said.
If possible, Ho would like to explore bringing in someone as an assistant director and mold that person to operate similarly to the way Robinson does, he said.
Duffy said Robinson has the power and authority to hire someone on a part-time basis if he needs assistance. Ho has contacted other housing authorities that are willing to offer advice on the executive director search process, he said.
Resident Commissioner Theresa Mitchell, who is in her third year of staying in public housing, said she is impressed with the job Robinson and his staff are doing. Mitchell was recently appointed as the housing authority’s resident board member.
Commissioner Jerome Guidry said Robinson has turned the housing authority around.
When Robinson arrived at the Morgan City Housing Authority, it had “a brand new toolbox,” but that the tools were not being used properly, he said. Because of the work that Robinson and his staff have put in to rectify the housing authority’s issues, he wants to see the results of that work, he said.
If the Morgan City Housing Authority gets approved for the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, also known as RAD, the large amount of subsidies that would come out of that “could flip this agency overnight,” Robinson said. The housing authority is in the process of getting that approval, Pace said.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website, “RAD allows public housing agencies to leverage public and private debt and equity in order to reinvest in the public housing stock.”
Under RAD, public housing tenants could use a voucher to rent from a private landlord, and that voucher would always stay with the unit itself, Pace said. In other words, the tenant could not take the voucher and move somewhere else, Pace said. The housing authority would get subsidies for those vouchers, she said.
RAD would also allow the housing authority to borrow money against property, which the housing authority cannot do with federally owned property, Pace said.
The program would provide new opportunities for the housing authority in that it would run “more like an apartment complex than a housing authority,” Duffy said.

This story was written by Zachary Fitzgerald of The Daily Review staff. Reach him at zfitzgerald@daily-review.com

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