Mayor says pushback to new public housing boss ‘needs to change’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has called for an independent investigation into a derogatory slur aimed at his newly hired public housing director and for an outside review of how public housing is organized in Indianapolis.

FOX59 obtained a letter dated July 30 that Hogsett sent to Indianapolis Housing Agency (IHA) Executive Director John Hall after the mayor became aware of an allegation that a member of the board of Insight Development Corporation, IHA’s development arm, used a slur to describe Hall during a conversation with an employee.

At the time of the insult, the board member was reportedly belittling Hall’s attempts to reform the agency.

“The nature of these allegations is unacceptable and, if proven true, I can assure you and your viewers that action will be taken,” the mayor told FOX59 in an exclusive interview in which he backed Hall. “He’s a reformer and I’m sure that decisions he is making are changing things at IHA and human nature being what it is perhaps he’s engaged some people who are trying to push back.”

Ever since arriving in Indianapolis from Wichita, Kansas, public housing in early March, Hall has encountered failing operations, excessive occupancy rates, bloated waiting lists, overdue maintenance, faulty record keeping, scathing federal and state financial reviews, inadequate building safety and attempts to strip IHA of its property ownership and turn the agency into a public housing management office.

In last week’s letter, Hogsett wrote, “In the coming days I will ask the Indy Chamber to oversee a review of the organizational structures of both IHA and Insight Development to make recommendations regarding the future structure and relationship of both entities.”

During his short tenure, Hall has repeatedly clashed with Jennifer Green, longtime Insight Development president and the interim executive director of IHA, over future plans and commitments that were made during the six months she ran both agencies.

In January, two months before Hall’s arrival, IHA paid a $50,000 down payment on the Mustang Ranch, a former automotive repair shop at 3017 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Street.

Eight months later, the city’s agency charged with providing housing for low-income Marion County residents maintains the property which is strewn with abandoned vehicles but shows no signs of rehabilitation or remodeling.

Hall assumed his job at IHA in the first week of this past March.

Three weeks later, as Hall struggled to establish oversight of the agency and the 25,000 recipients who depend on IHA for housing, Green, on behalf of Insight Development and its partner NWQOL Holding Company, took out a $225,000 mortgage for an abandoned retail center across the street from the Mustang Ranch at the corner of MLK and West 30th Street.

Like the Mustang Ranch, the retail center remains boarded up with no signs of remodeling or rehabilitation to meet IHA’s mission of providing housing for low-income residents.

In 2018, under Green’s leadership, Insight Development awarded a pair of $400,000 grants to Cleo’s Bodega, a market to address food desert issues in the nearby Flanner House community, and to Country Kitchen, whose owner served on an IHA-affiliated board during the July, 2018, discussion of the grant to the restaurant to expand its operations but then resigned under pressure before the money was approved by her former board members a month later.

“I am not aware of any conflicts of interest or ethic violations but if they do exist, I’m sure they’ll be uncovered and we’ll take appropriate action,” said Hogsett. “This administration throughout the four years we’ve been in office has tried to be as open and transparent in our dealings and that applies to IHA.”

The mayor noted that while he is responsible for appointment of a majority of the IHA Board of Commissioners.

“John has been brought in to remedy whatever wrongs have been occurring, whether its at IHA or whether its involved in any subsidiary of IHA. That’s John’s primary responsibility to reform and change.

“To the extent that there are people who are not supportive of John’s reformation, that needs to change because the agency is an important agency to the city and John has been brought in to reform it.

“I’m very supportive of the efforts that he’s making to make IHA more responsive to the residents that IHA is intended to serve and I think he’s doing that and to the extent that can continue to make improvements, we will.”

When contacted by FOX59,  Hall said he had nothing to add to Hogsett’s statements.

A response issued on behalf of Insight read:  “Insight Development Corporation has always followed the rules….We welcome the Indy Chamber review…(and) With respect to comments made by board meeting attendees, we are awaiting the findings from those who have been assigned to look into this matter.”

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