Lansing Housing Commission continues to face scrutiny

LANSING, MI (WLNS) - Earlier this week, the Lansing City Council took a vote of “no confidence” in the Lansing Housing Commission after the commission failed to produce an annual report before a deadline at the end of June.

That report was supposed to outline the commission's activities, including its finances, for the previous year.

The commission has been facing challenges and criticism from Lansing city leaders and residents as far back as 2008.

The problems and complaints are not new and quite frankly, have not changed.

That track record is why some city leaders, including Lansing City Council President Carol Wood say enough is enough.

Almost five years ago, 6 News did a series of stories on the repulsive conditions at South Washington Park Apartments in Lansing.

It's the largest of more than 800-units across the capital city owned and operated by the Lansing Housing Commission.

6 News heard accounts of urine and human feces in the hallways, infestations of bed bugs, and a whole lot of crime.

In early June of this year, two people died after an apartment fire in one of the public housing units.

According to reports, inspectors found damaged outlets in the bedroom, a bathroom vent fan that didn't work, a clogged vent cover, among other things. 

These are problems that residents say is a result of poor oversight.

The documents speak for themselves. In 2008, an audit found that the commission inappropriately used public housing funds for non-federal development activities.

Then in 2015, a federal audit discovered the commission did not property maintain records of money and designated it as “troubled.”

Some of those problems were detailed in the audit, which then prompted the city, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the housing commission to enter into a recovery agreement, one that Lansing City Council President Carol Wood said has clearly been broken.

"You have people that commit to you that they're going to do something and you don't follow through and this is an agency,” she said. “This is not a slum lord that's out there; this is supposed to be an agency that's taking care of our most vulnerable and they’re not doing it."

Councilmember Wood said the commission needs to be held accountable.

"As a board, there are certain responsibilities,” she said. “You shouldn't just go in and open a manila envelope and look at that and pass the things that are there and move on and go home and have your dinner. What you need to be doing as an active board, you are hiring people, the board is making recommendations to HUD."

Tony Baltimore serves as the board chair. He said the black-eye on the agency doesn't tell the full story about all the good work being done by its employees.

"For the last few years we've been remodeling a lot of our units with kitchens and baths to bring things up to today's standards,” he said.

“I just hope that we can all come together with all of the facts,” Baltimore added.

It’s worth mentioning that all of this happened under the leadership of former Mayor Virg Bernero, which puts the city's current mayor, Andy Schor, in a unique position. That’s because he took over as mayor this year in January. He also did not appoint the members.

He says that while he recognizes the council's “no confidence” vote, he wants to give the commission a chance to make improvements and then make a decision from there.

"Like any board, if they are not doing what I expect to be done, then I will seek someone else for those positions,” he said. “If they are doing what we expect to be done then we'll continue to move forward."

There are five commissioners on the Lansing Housing Commission.

The mayor is in charge of not only appointing those people, but also has the power to remove them from office.

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