As part of Mayor Greg Fischer’s ongoing review of Metro departments, an independent review of the Community Services and Revitalization department has just been released. (CSR oversees a host of services, from rental and heat assistance to home repair to self-sufficiency programs. The issue of vacant and abandoned properties also falls under its purview.)
The review applauds a dedicated staff passionate about helping the community. It also shows that a majority of clients feel good about their interaction with CSR employees. Still, the overall picture isn’t glowing. From the review:
“Chief among the concerns is a lack of confidence in leadership and direction, lack of cooperation across the organization, generally low employee engagement and overall untapped potential … Externally, there is a sizeable sentiment among community based organizations and ‘partners’ that their expertise is not solicited nor embraced to truly help solve problems and innovate for solutions.”
It also states that the way in which accountability and performance is addressed by some management has created an “environment of deep distrust, fear of retaliation, lack of engagement and little teamwork.”
Among the review’s most immediate recommendations? Hire a permanent director. Currently, the department has an “acting director” — Adria Johnson.
On May 4, Regina Warren, CSR’s assistant director, suddenly resigned. (At the time of Warren’s departure, a former CSR employee told LEO the resignation may have been more forced than voluntary, but a review of her personnel file does not show any documentation supporting that claim.)
This isn’t the first time this department has been scrutinized. Back when it was called the Department of Housing and Family Services, a 2009 state audit found “gross mismanagement of critical city programs and the millions of local and federal dollars used to fund them.”
Auditors found employees who didn’t have an understanding of their basic job functions. Summer food programs for children were sloppily handled, causing a loss in federal funds. A grant aimed at reducing poverty was diverted to pay for a former housing director’s cell phone bill and legal association dues.
This latest review makes 66 recommendations ranging from increasing program revenues to performing cosmetic fixes. In order to improve client experience, recommendation #36 calls for improvements at the 810 Barrett building (where the department is housed), including upgrading the HVAC system, re-painting, re-flooring, and repairing structural damage.
Another major focus of the audit (perhaps to the glee of affordable housing advocates) focuses on the need of CSR to better support, resource and understand housing needs in the community. From the audit:
*Form a think tank of housing developers both nonprofit and for-profit to generate ideas for removing barriers in the affordable housing development process.
*Mayor’s Office should appoint a senior level person with the authority to hold team members accountable as chair of the Vacant, Abandoned, and Underutilized Properties (VAP) Team to formalize the team structure, establish leadership, and elevate accountability and responsibility of the team to achieve defined common goals.
* … establish a targeted area for neighborhood revitalization and stabilization, subsequently dedicating 60-80 percent of all available plans, resources and grant money to improve the targeted area; creating a community where people are incented to remain, live and thrive.
Click here for a look at the whole review.
Mayor Fischer is still reviewing the report. Sadiqua Reynolds, Metro’s chief of community building, says the review shows, “We’re not perfect … but we’ve come a long way (since the 2009 audit).”
She also tells LEO that she’s impressed by the hardworking staff who’s continued to plug away despite a work environment that needs mending.