Public housing residents protest removal of manager

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — 154 residents of Barton Tower, an Indianapolis Housing Agency high-rise at 555 Massachusetts Avenue, have signed a petition protesting the reassignment of their longtime building manager without warning or explanation.

Some complain IHA top management tried to intimidate them into not adding their signatures to the document.

"Certain IHA officials told individuals not to sign this petition to keep Miss Hightower,"  said Barton Resident Council President Bonita Davis as she held the petition that listed her signature on the top line.

Valencia Hightower was the property manager for 10 years until her transfer at the end of 2018.

“When they made phone calls down there in regard to complain about her leaving, they were told not to get involved and not to sign the petitions,” said Davis.

Michael Booth and Valecia Shields also signed the petition despite their misgivings and those of other residents who said they feared IHA backlash for their opposition to Hightower’s departure.

“I really enjoy living at Barton Tower. I’m just concerned about the safety and security of the building,” said Shields.  “We’ve had a lot of people coming in and out of the building. Just the other morning we had a homeless guy that was sleeping in our day room.”

Booth agreed. “Certain individuals and people just coming in and out without signing in.”

Hightower took over as manager of Barton Tower and Barton Annex in 2009 and earned Crimefighter of the Year Honors from IMPD

On her watch, the Bartons enjoyed some of the highest occupancy rates in the IHA public housing system and the lowest crime.

Sources indicate after Hightower raised opposition to IHA management policies and decisions this past fall, she was forced out to manage another property while a manager from a failing north side townhome community with less occupancy and higher crime rates was brought in to replace her.

“Miss Valencia did a great job as far as I was concerned. She worked very well with IMPD to keep what I consider the undesirables out of the building. Right now, safety is the number one issue,” said Davis. “Since the new manager has come in we have a lot of people on the banned list that are now coming in. The drug dealers that we had got out of the building, they’re returning to the building.”

When asked about the management shift, IHA responded, “We hold the privacy of our employees within the highest regard. Bearing this in mind, we are not in a position to respond to questions about personnel matters involving current or former staff.”

“This property here is in the heart of downtown,” said Davis. “We have businesses that are all around downtown. We have investors, and if this property goes down, they’re not going to tolerate a high crime rate around here.”

232 Barton Tower units were occupied in mid-December which would indicate 2/3 of the residents signed the petition protesting Hightower’s reassignment.

Hightower is reportedly on medical leave due to stress related over her transfer.

The residents indicate they may forward their petition to Mayor Hogsett or the Department of Housing and Urban Development or present it at Tuesday’s meeting of the IHA Board of Commissioners.

The mayor is in the final stages of hiring a new executive director to replace longtime leader Bud Meyers who abruptly resigned last summer after a pair of audits by state and federal authorities found irregularities in the agency’s accounting practices and financial controls.

Hogsett is also on the verge of a makeover of the IHA Board March 1.

FOX59 recently obtained a copy of a letter HUD sent to both Hogsett and IHA finding the agency in “non-compliance” in its handling of Family Self-Sufficiency escrow accounts of residents and management fees paid by federal authorities.

IHA oversees housing for 22,000 low income Marion County residents in both its apartment properties and in its Section 8 program.

The number of applicants awaiting public housing assistance in Marion County may number well over 100,000, according to IHA figures.

IHA’s 2019 budget is listed at $77 million.

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