Fact vs. Fiction
What is the waiting list for the Housing Rehab Program?
The answer is that we don’t know. Because of problems brought to light over the past two years, I initiated a new process for the Housing Rehab Program in 2010. Instead of one person making the decisions on which project gets done next, we have a committee to review all incoming applications so we can make informed decisions about how to spend the money. The problem? From past documentation, no two waiting lists are the same and as we have discovered in recent months, the Housing Rehab Specialist has not brought all of the projects to the committee – making it virtually impossible for the committee to make informed decisions.
What I can tell you is that in 2011 I asked the Housing Rehab Specialist for waiting lists by year and he indicated there wasn’t one. That the process was to roll projects over into the next year. In analyzing the waiting list that was then provided by the Housing Rehab Specialist, you can see that only one property was on the waiting list at the time Mario’s application was made. Furthermore, the attached sheets from the Leominster Comptroller’s office show that from 2007 to the present year the Housing Rehab Program has had excess funding each year. For example, the year that Mario’s project was funded, there was a total of $55,253.93 was left. If there had been a waiting list, we certainly should have taken care of the people on it. With only one person on the waiting list and extra money in the program, there certainly was no need for my intervention on Mario’s behalf. Mario and his home qualified and there was extra money in the program.
And then there is the question of why a contractor for the Housing Rehab Program was paid $294,000 over three years to do housing rehab work in Leominster and at the same time received a loan from the program. He applied for the loan 6 weeks after Mario and and six months before he owned the property. The work was completed within a year despite claims by the Housing Rehab Coordinator that there was a substantial waiting list.
The program guidelines state that for participation in the program clear title is required. It also states in the contract that if a rehabbed building is sold or title transferred, or refinanced, the total amount of the grant received shall be paid back.”
I have to admit. Until 2011, I really didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of this program. That’s why we have a Housing Rehab Specialist and planning staff. In the past few years, I have learned about the program. And I know this much. I didn’t really know what the status of the deed was when I was trying to help Mario—I just know he needed help and he was a Veteran with no where to go. As stated by the Housing Rehab Specialist in his employment review, it was his job to examine the status of the property and put a lien on. And as I said at the council meeting, a problem with a home’s chain of title does not prevent a lien from being put on. The first I heard of a problem with the lien was 33 months after the work was completed and three months after Mario had passed away.
So what else have I learned about the program since 2010? I have learned that some properties don’t have liens, some have a lien but have been sold with the money never to be recovered, twenty nine – that’s 29—properties have been refinanced against the program rules. A couple properties as many as five times. In some cases, this meant that the recipients paid off all their bills with a lower interest mortgage and the City subordinated – once again not getting the money back to spend on other critical projects. As you can see, the outstanding loans owed to the City is $3.1 million. That’s a lot of homes that could be rehabbed.
Who gets moved to the top?
As I have said, we have made changes to the Housing Rehab Program to correct what could be perceived as an inequitable and inconsistent program. The program is now guided by officials from the planning, health and grant offices. But let’s say we hadn’t changed the structure. That the same rules still apply. “Applicants who have leaking roofs or other unsafe conditions get priority treatment. Veterans and the most needy are often moved to the top of the waiting list. Mario fit this description to a T. He certainly didn’t need my help to move to the top of the list.
Since we have formed the CDBG Housing Rehab Committee, the Housing Rehab Specialist has requested several properties be moved to the top of the list. One that hadn’t even filed an application at the time.
Link: requests for properties to be moved up
Was Mario’s loan secured in non-compliance with standard practice?
As illustrated, Mario qualified for the program financially. His house was clearly substandard. With the number of properties without liens; the number that have been refinanced, sold and transferred without the City getting its money back; and the number of properties that have been requested to be considered an “emergency” just in the past year, there seems to be little or no “standard practice” for this program.
You have my word that I will continue to look into this program and make sure that it is run fairly and efficiently.