Report shows problems in Metro’s Community Services and Revitalization Dept.

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.

4 Comments

  1. patriotgal
    Posted July 8, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Someone should take a look at the Housing Authority’s utility payment program. A few years ago the Housing Authority stopped issuing checks for utility subsidies and instead of giving subsidized housing participants’ the choice of direct deposit into their own bank account, the LMHA brokered a deal with Chase Bank to issue Chase Debit Cards to housing participants. However, while the basic concept of direct deposit into a bank account rather than issuing a paper check is a sound one, in practice this deal falls short in several ways. First, this is not a regular account. Chase Bank has no authority over the account so can be of no help when housing participants need it. Help available is in the form of recorded voice “announcements”, which is of no help for participants who need to speak to a live human being. Second, the fees associated with this card are very high. Each online payment, e.g., to pay a utility bill online, is $.75 – much higher than most private bank accounts, many of which charge nothing to make online payments of any kind. Also, while the first withdrawal is free, second and subsequent withdrawal fees are $5.00 each! Again, these fees are paid directly to the LMHA, NOT Chase Bank, and are egregiously high compared to private checking/bank accounts. Who authorized the LMHA to open a bank account in participants’ names? It violates privacy. Chase Bank now knows every person in Louisville who is on Sec. 8. Furthermore, the fees are excessively high and may violate federal and/or state laws regarding banking fees, which LMHA may get around since they are not a bank. But since they are not a bank, should they be allowed to collect fees as if they were a bank? I believe LMHA participants should be given the option of direct deposit, but with their OWN banking institutions, much like child support payments are now distributed. LMHA should NOT be allowed to profit from utility monies expressly given to offset utility bills for housing participants. Utility bills are high enough without having to pay the LMHA a fee to pay a bill or to withdraw utility payment monies. I think this entire Chase Bank deal should be investigated. How much did Chase Bank get paid to be the bank chosen for this? Whose idea was it? Who authorized it? It seems to me inappropriate for the LMHA to be making money off HUD participants – and is it even legal? Again, it should be investigated.

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