Council removes FRHA Board

Published 7:35 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2020

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Franklin’s City Council voted 4-3 on last week to remove each remaining member of the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners on grounds of inefficiency and neglect of duties in office.

Virginia Code 36-17 states that commissioners of an authority of any city or county may be removed for these reasons only after they have been provided a notice of the charges against them at least 10 days prior to a hearing, at which they are to be given the opportunity to be heard in-person or via representation by counsel. According to the city’s resolution, City Manager Amanda Jarratt provided each FRHA commissioner with such notice on Feb. 25, which included the date, time and location of the city’s scheduled joint meeting with the FRHA Board on March 9, and stated the City Council’s intent to remove each member.

At the March 9 meeting, Mayor Frank Rabil had grilled the authority members over what actions they had taken as a board to remedy the “unsatisfactory” rating the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had given the FRHA following an on-site management review in January. But the FRHA Board members present that evening all remained silent, with only the FRHA’s attorney, Scott Alperin, and third-party accountant, James Reese, offering any explanations. Rabil had then read aloud a portion of HUD’s report, which stated that although the report had only come out on Feb. 26, HUD had discussed its findings on Jan. 9 with Reese, FRHA Interim Executive Director Loretta Batten and FRHA Board President Cheryl Vincent.

We have not heard anything in good faith directly from that board since March 9, and when they were here on March 9, they didn’t do any talking,” Rabil said. “We’re tired of this … they sat on their hands quite frankly.”

The three dissenting votes came from Councilwoman Wynndolyn Copeland and Councilmen Linwood Johnson and Bobby Cutchins. Johnson had questioned whether the city could truly say that the FRHA Board has been inefficient when each member had only been serving since June or July of last year.

You appoint a new board for about six to eight months, and then how can you say it’s inefficiency when they’ve worked to pay off most of the bills … now HUD is coming with a management company,” Johnson said. “To me it sounds like everything’s moving forward.”

HUD’s report had given the FRHA a deadline of April 10 to implement a series of corrective actions, most of which involved providing HUD with additional documentation such as financial statements and a written plan for paying overdue contractor invoices. According to Lisa A. Wolfe, regional public affairs officer for HUD, though the FRHA’s responses to each corrective action were received timely, the “unsatisfactory” rating in HUD’s management and occupancy report will remain in effect.

As a result of this rating, HUD had also requested that a third-party, HUD-approved management company be put in place to manage the Berkley Court, Pretlow Gardens and Old Town Terrace apartment complexes. But this management company, which Johnson had referenced, won’t be replacing the role of the FRHA Board of Commissioners, according to Wolfe.

HUD is not involved with the contractual relationship between the project’s ownership and the Management Company,” she said. “A Management Agreement is executed between those parties and submitted to HUD for approval … Upon acceptance, a Management Certification is executed.”

Ownership of Franklin’s subsidized housing, however, does not belong solely to the FRHA anymore. In 2013, the authority deeded ownership of its Berkley Court, Pretlow Gardens and Old Town Terrace apartment complexes to two limited partnerships for the purpose of securing low-income tax credits to fund renovations. Wolfe had previously explained to The Tidewater News that the FRHA, in creating these subsidiaries, converted all three of these apartment complexes to Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance. Typically, Section 8 PBRA properties are owned by private owners who have entered into multi-year rental assistance agreements with HUD or a local public housing agency for contracts funded under the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Program. Most owners of Section 8 PBRA properties are for-profit entities, but nonprofits and some public housing agencies own a significant share of Section 8 PBRA properties.

Batten declined to comment on the City Council’s decision, stating she had not attended last week’s Council meeting.