Pennsylvania

Months after the end of the scandal-plagued Carl Greene era, federal officials are wondering whether to punish the Philadelphia Housing Authority for the transgressions of the former PHA head. According to an article on Philly.com,  letters between HUD officials and Iowa senator, Charles Grassley reveal that HUD’s deputy inspector general, Michael P. Stephens, is pushing for sanctions:

In a letter Monday to Grassley, HUD’s deputy inspector general, Michael P. Stephens, urged that PHA be stripped of crucial flexibility to spend federal money.

Stephens said the authority was in default of its so-called “Moving To Work” agreement with HUD and should be removed from the program.

That would greatly rein in PHA and slow its ability to develop housing. PHA has a budget of about $400 million, most of it from the federal government.

Read the full article here:  Federal officials wonder whether to punish the PHA for Carl R. Greene’s sins

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Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) conditionally approved  $30 million in low income housing  tax credits to 33 developments throughout the state. Below is a list of the developments provisionally awarded tax credits:

Multifamily Awards

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Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer published another story on the mess that is the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). According to the Inquirer, PHA is seeking an explanation for payments made to ex-City Controller Jonathan Saidel, who was paid about $150,000 as a consultant by the Authority. The PHA board, however, never approved the billing, and payments were not made directly to Saidel, but rather in $5,000 monthly increments through a “consulting agreement” with the law firm Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis L.L.P:

The documents list Schnader partner James J. Eisenhower – a longtime political ally of Saidel’s and also his sometime personal lawyer – as Saidel’s contact.

Saidel declined to describe his work or to explain why he received his payments indirectly, but said he reported to the agency’s ousted director, Carl R. Greene.

Read the full story here: PHA seeks explanations for billings from ex-City Controller Jonathan Saidel

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The Philadelphia Housing Authority has received approval from the federal housing agency to dispose of roughly a third of it’s 3,300 vacant houses and lots. The plan is welcome news to the city’s eager affordable housing community which has oft sough in vain to partner with PHA in developing vacant lots, “In an about-face noted by many groups in the city that develop affordable housing, PHA has put out the welcome mat, asking whether they could use any of the properties in the agency’s vast inventory of vacant land.” Additionally, PHA plans to make available 1,275 properties to the public at market rates.

Read more on the story here: Philadelphia Housing Authority seeks takers for vacant properties

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This friday, HUD assumed control of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, placing a former city official, Estelle Richman, in charge of the troubled agency. The move to appoint a former city official was made to appease “defiant” PHA board members, who finally relinquished control of the country’s fourth largest public housing agency:

The announcement was made after a special board meeting Friday afternoon attended by four PHA board members. Missing from the group was City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, who became the first commissioner to break ranks by resigning Wednesday.

The Philadelphia agency has been in a state of upheaval since the abrupt termination of Executive Director Carl R. Greene last September, and is under investigation by multiple agencies, from HUD to the Departments of Labor and Justice.

Read the full story on philly.com: HUD will take over control of Philly Housing Authority

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A Philadelphia Inquirer article reveals The Philadelphia Housing Authority is facing yet another lawsuit. This time, a former assistant general manager is claiming he was fired unfairly after blowing the whistle on “waste, fraud, and theft in the authority.” The suit comes less than two months after a group of landlords sued the PHA for fraudulently taking their money. The Inquirer also provides a convenient timeline of recent legal action taken against the PHA:

Dec. 30: John Tatum, a former maintenance manager for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, sues in federal court, saying he was fired after speaking out against waste, fraud, and theft at the agency.

Dec. 7: Carl R. Greene, deposed PHA executive director, accuses PHA board chairman John F. Street of defamation in Common Pleas Court. In terminating Greene, Street referred to him as a “serial sexual harasser.”

Nov. 12: Landlords from across the region sue PHA in federal court, alleging that the agency fraudulently took their money for an illegal lobbying fund and for the “personal enrichment” of PHA employees.

Oct. 28: Moneke Thomas, a former senior management specialist who settled a sexual-harassment complaint against Greene for $350,000, claims in Common Pleas Court that she continued to be intimidated by PHA employees after she left the agency in 2008.

Oct. 14: Vincent Morris, a former executive assistant who also worked for the nonprofit and PHA-affiliate Tenant Support Services Inc., files a whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court. He claims he was forced out of his job after warning about improper spending on lobbying and political activity.

Oct. 14: Laura Hesson Leibert, a former PHA technical aide, sues Greene in federal court over sexual harassment and retaliation.

Sept. 22: Rosanna Grdinich, a former human resources employee at PHA, says in a federal lawsuit that she was removed from her job and had her salary cut after confronting Greene with allegations of sexual harassment.

Sept. 20: PHA engineer files a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging Greene with sex discrimination.

Sept. 15: Current and former employees sue PHA in federal court, alleging they were pressured to contribute to a Greene-promoted nonprofit group that was a front for illegal lobbying activities.

Sept. 7: Greene sues the five-member PHA board in federal court for violating terms of his employment contract by effectively terminating him.

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A Philadelphia Inquirer article sheds light on the diminishing support for Low Income Housing Tax Credit developments in economically depressed municipalities like Norristown, Upper Darby, and Coatesville:

“It probably would be a nice project, but I don’t buy that it’s a good thing for Norristown,” he said. “I don’t think it pushes our goals at all in deconcentrating poverty within our community.”

The aversion to tax credit development comes after years in which these communities have become disproportionately concentrated with low income tax credit units. The concentration argument raised by town officials opposed to recent LIHTC proposals mirrors the argument made in a recent Texas lawsuit. While the Texas case was raised by a non-profit claiming discrimination, over-concentration of LIHTC developments in economically depressed areas is a growing area of concern for HFAs and industry professionals alike.

The capacity for towns to successfully resist affordable housing development also has implications on the recent New Jersey affordable housing reform. Opponents of the NJ bill have taken issue with the lack of affordable housing obligations placed on municipalities.

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On november 24th, Governor Ed Rendell signed into law House Bill 60, which establishes the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Program. The program, currently awaiting federal funding, is designed to “provide funding for housing projects to benefit older adults, people with disabilities and low-income residents.”

The program will provide funding to the following types of projects:

(1) Projects to provide safe and sanitary dwellings for sale or rent to low-income and moderate-income individuals or families.
(2) Projects to increase the availability or quality of housing for elderly persons.
(3) Projects to increase the availability or quality of accessible housing for persons with disabilities.
(4) Projects to prevent or reduce homelessness.
(5) Projects to encourage the development and rehabilitation of distressed neighborhoods.
(6) Projects to provide mortgage or rental assistance, including housing counseling, foreclosure prevention and
(7) Projects to provide loans, low-interest loans or grants to low-income and moderate-income individuals or families who are owner-occupants for repairs and improvement to sustain or increase the conditions of the home.

For the following purposes:

(1) Predevelopment activities, including title searches, market studies, project planning, architectural services, legal and engineering studies and related fees.
(2) Acquisition and disposition of real or personal property.
(3) Site preparation, including demolition of existing structures and remediation of environmental conditions.
(4) Construction, reconstruction, alteration and repair of existing structures, improvements and infrastructure.

State Representative Peter J. Daley, DFayette, a key sponsor of the bill, sees the bill as both a boon for Pennsylvania families and the economy at large, “It’s going to do a lot of good things for PA, because when you build houses you create and grow the economy” he said, “it’s going to affect probably 30,000 families in Pennsylvania.”

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“Landlords from across the region sued the Philadelphia Housing Authority on Friday, alleging that the agency fraudulently took their money for an illegal lobbying fund and for the “personal enrichment” of PHA employees.”

Specifically, the section 8 landlord are seeking reimbursement for a required training course conducted by the PHA. The housing authority required landlords participating in the section 8 program to pay a 200 fee to take the course between 2008 and August, 2010.

“PHA issued a statement Friday, saying that the training courses had been ‘extremely beneficial to the city’s neighborhoods. Properties are better maintained.’”

Read the full story from the Philadelphia Inquirer: Section 8 landlords sue Philadelphia Housing Authority

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