Federal investigators probe IHA’s spending

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- While federal investigators have been examining the spending, procurement, accounting and operational policies and procedures of the Indianapolis Housing Agency (IHA), a FOX59 investigation reveals how the public housing agency steered funds toward some seemingly recreational events or a well-connected insider.

On Sept. 14 of this year, IHA Property Manager Duane Ingram invited staff to attend what he termed a, “retreat and team-building opportunity,” to Top Golf in Fishers.

Ingram warned that a TV reporter, “may show up. If he does show up and ask any of you questions simply direct him to me. No worries!”

A review of IHA internal records reveals the agency spent $1,110 on the “Staff Retreat,” but an Open Records Act Request by FOX59 failed to provide significant documentation regarding the event.

During an off-camera briefing for reporters on Oct. 29, Ingram insisted that the outing, “wasn’t about golf,” but was intended to review IHA operations and setting future plans.

Interim Executive Director Jennifer Green said the event was to reward hardworking employees.

Ingram insisted that bids were solicited from multiple providers but identified only the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and Top Golf as potential meeting sites. When asked for an invoice or contract, IHA provided a Top Golf sales brochure listing its menu and souvenirs for sale. When a running order for the meeting was sought, Ingram provided an undated general agenda which included IHA trivia questions attached to a Nov. 14 email. There were no minutes of the meeting or follow up memos summarizing the agenda and plans for acting on any issues raised during the Top Golf outing.

Sources indicate at least three property managers who attended the mid-September meeting have already left the agency.

A year ago, Insight Development Corp., IHA’s operational non-profit with oversight of eight properties, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a party that cost $17,000 to stage in an area adjacent to a remodeled $16,000 kitchen at 546 East 17th Street.

The site is across the street from 16 Park, a premier Insight property that has a 90% occupancy rate, seven percent below guidelines set by federal authorities and IHA’s own “break even” goal to make its 2019 budget system wide. On average it takes 35 days to complete non-emergency work orders at 16 Park, leaving the property out of compliance, and the complex recently received an unsatisfactory Management and Occupancy review from outside auditors.

Photographs obtained by FOX59 indicate repairs that have gone uncompleted for a year.

In 2019 IHA will receive $77 million in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide housing for 22,000 low income residents in Marion County.

Green estimates that 15,000 potential residents are on a waiting list for housing which she said is hampered by IHA’s inability to fully staff its maintenance personnel after the departure of 16 employees this year.

“We’ve got some work to do.  We’ve been working with our real estate management and staff for them to understand their expectations and just working through those issues,” said Green. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re just trying to make sure that we provide affordable housing to residents of Marion County.”

This past summer the Insight Development Corp. Board approved the award of a $400,000 federal grant for job creation to Kountry Kitchen, a restaurant at 1831 North College Avenue, just a few blocks from the Insight headquarters.

The owner of Kountry Kitchen is Cynthia Wright Wilson who was an IHA board member while her grant request was debated by the Insight board.

When an Insight board member objected to the grant award, citing potential conflict of interest, the proposal was tabled until Wright Wilson resigned her IHA post, opening the way for receipt of the funding which would result in expanded restaurant and catering services with 16 promised jobs and Insight’s anticipated 20% ownership of Kountry Kitchen’s equipment.

During a recent Insight board meeting, member Michael Allen speculated that since Wright Wilson had not completed the paperwork for the grant, Insight should consider rescinding the offer and seeking out another recipient.

A staff indicated she would reconnect with Kountry Kitchen to reconfirm its intentions to receive the funding.

The patterns of IHA spending, accounting and operations have gained the attention of state and federal auditors and private lenders invested in public housing properties.

Longtime Executive Director Rufus Bud Myers resigned abruptly in late August after the publication of two critical audits.

Mayor Joe Hogsett has launched a nationwide search for a new executive director while talks continue on a City County Council proposal that would allow the mayor, the council and public housing residents to scrap the current IHA board and replace it next spring.

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