CINCINNATI - It appears the fear of losing federal housing funds played a key role in Thursday's decision by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) Board to approve a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA).
The agreement between CHMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls for 68 new affordable housing units to be developed in Green Township in the next two years.
Thirty-two of them will be public housing owned and operated by the agency. The remainder will be mixed-use or senior citizen facilities. Early drafts of the deal called for all 68 units to be public housing.
It's also possible that the public housing number will decline further next March, when CMHA finishes a comprehensive Green Township housing plan and submits it to HUD.
The VCA was negotiated to settle a HUD accusation that former CMHA Board Chairman Arnie Barnett directed staff not to acquire additional public housing units in Green Township. The township currently has 27 units within its borders.
Barnett has denied that, saying all he was trying to do was put public housing in areas that didn't have it or had very little of it.
The five member board split its vote Thursday. Chairman Lamont Taylor, Laura Bruner and Marsha Spears voted yes. Pete Witte and Bill Miles said no.
"I don't think HUD is being heavy-handed," Taylor said. "I thought it was the right thing. I thought it made sense."
Taylor added the CMHA goal is to break the cycle of poverty and not concentrate poor people in any one given area.
Witte, a Price Hill businessman and civic activist, said he feels an agreement should have been signed after a plan was developed.
He said his vote was based on observations of public housing operations in his neighborhood, which has a high concentration of units.
"I believe unfortunately that low-income families are being used as pawns in some way in this game and I think that's totally inappropriate," he said. "I think it's totally reprehensible."
Asked what would happen if the board delayed a vote on the matter, CHMA attorney Jeff Nardo said HUD would likely go into immediate enforcement mode and make a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"HUD also has the authority to terminate our annual contributions contract," he said. "That means they have the authority to cut off our funding, which has a direct impact on our residents."
Taylor acknowledged that could be more than $100 million and was a factor in the vote.
"You have to say who will this have an adverse affect on and that's the agency and the residents," he said. "We have 16,000 families that would have been adversely affected and that's unacceptable."
Green Township Trustees Vice-Chairman Dave Linnenberg said the decision will be challenged because he feels 68 units are too much for one community.
"Residents are calling. They all want us to fight," he said. "There are residents who already are talking about where they can give money to help with the legal defense of this because they want to fight it."
Linnenberg said he feels the board's vote won't help his community of 58,000 residents.
"Right now we have a very hard-working neighborhood. We have a very strong community," he said. "We'd love to have new people move into houses. We would love to have more home ownership, but this doesn't solve those problems."
According to Taylor, CMHA will do its best to support residents that move into Green Township and educate them about maintaining the character of the community.
"When you go into a community like Green Township that's very respectable, you don't want to do anything that would have an adverse effect on that," he said. "You want to make sure all residents understand what it's like to be a good resident and bring value to that community."
Barnett said he was threatened and intimidated by HUD during the investigation of the claim.
"I've worked with those people and believe me, they are nothing," he said. "In my opinion they are as close to Nazis as you're going to get."
Civil rights attorney Robert Newman, who filed suits against Barnett and the CMHA, suggested that the VCA is the right path to follow.
"There are problems because there are people who are screaming Nazis and screaming that this kind of housing is cancerous," he said. "It's just nonsense and it just doesn't help us with the business of our lives and the business of providing housing."
Still to come is Hamilton County's decision on a Cooperation Agreement with CHMA. Approval of that document could mean 375 additional public housing units in suburban neighborhoods.
Linnenberg said that during their June 13th meeting, Green Township's Trustees will likely vote to "opt-out" of the agreement. That means the township won't be eligible for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.
All 37 municipalities and 12 townships must decide by June 24th whether to participate. It's next on the Commissioners' agenda June 27th and before the CHMA Board on June 28th.