Mayor walks property of troubled public housing agency

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Ever since late July, Mayor Joe Hogsett has been hearing about problems at the Indianapolis Housing Agency, the public entity that provides a place to live for 22,000 Indianapolis residents at an annual cost of $65 million.

Wednesday, the mayor and IMPD Chief Bryan Roach walked with their staffs and IHA top management around the Laurelwood apartment complex on the city’s south side to see for themselves.

“You never know when your management is going to be in the office. They lose your rent. They talk to you with disrespect. And nothing gets fixed,” said resident Ashley Simmons. “With him out here talking to us, he is going to see what we’re dealing with whether it be maintenance orders not being filled. For example, rent. They’re losing people’s rent money. They’re raising rent without a thirty day notice.”

After his walk, the mayor promised to find solutions to the neighbors’ concerns.

“Just day-to-day management complaints, its not unusual and we obviously need to hear the nature of the complaints to take corrective action,” said Hogsett. “We’ve heard some of those concerns and complaints and part of my job is to make sure they’re resolved in effective and efficient ways.”

State and federal audits this summer found financial mismanagement at IHA, the longtime executive director abruptly quit in late August, the agency has been plagued with the departure of veteran maintenance and property management staff and crime is up significantly in public housing properties all across the city.

FOX59 also discovered a questionable $400,000 grant steered to a former member of an IHA-related board that raised internal conflict of interest questions.

Hogsett said he is confident that the management problems will be resolved when he fills the positions of executive director and chief operating officer in the months to come.

“We’re undergoing a complete transition at the upper level management of IHA and I hope to complete that process as quickly as we can and hopefully that kind of change will filter down into our properties,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett revealed that Proposal 197 before the city-county council, an IHA plan to extend the terms of incumbent agency board members for another year or more and stop anticipated Hogsett appointments at the end of 2018, is being rewritten.

Bennett told us that all nine seats on the board will now expire at the end of February, permitting Hogsett to make five appointments to give his handpicked new management team a fresh majority on the board, while permitting the council and residents to fill the remaining four positions.

A recent board meeting was marked by the reluctance to answer questions by IHA leadership.

“I look forward to every board and commission that serves this city and its residents to maybe start anew and start afresh,” said Hogsett. “Some boards its taken me a while to make some appointments and IHA is one of those and I look forward to making those appointments sometime in the early part of next year.”

Standing by the mayor’s side, when Interim Executive Director Jennifer Green was asked if she had an IHA strategy to reduce crime, she instead deferred to IMPD for public safety responsibilities in agency properties.

Green has promised to meet with reporters Monday to answer questions in a limited briefing without the presence of TV cameras and tape recorders.

“I think the message to the housing agency is we want safe, affordable, convenient and comfortable decent places to live and traditionally IHA has been able to do that but with a new leadership team I hope we can do even better,” said Hogsett.

Back at her apartment, after speaking with the mayor, Ashley Simmons demonstrated how her entire door frame is separated from the wall.

“My whole door moves. Like every inch of my door moves. They say they lost the order. A lot of our orders they tell us they can’t find them because they’ve been transferred to a Florida location. When you call the work order hotline that woman that puts orders in tells you that its been sent to Florida.”

“And we’ll work on the management issues,” the mayor told another resident. “They’re much more easily fixed than your personal safety.”

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