Columbus Housing Authority changes policies

Columbus public housing officials voted Wednesday to change some policies and procedures to reduce administrative costs and allow the agency to implement new programs.

The changes are possible because of a federal Moving to Work designation that gives more flexibility to a select group of housing authorities across the nation as they test innovative strategies to help families become more self-sufficient.

Last year, the Housing Authority of Columbus Georgia (HACG) was one of four housing authorities chosen for the program by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In total, there are only 39 housing authorities participating from among about 3,300 nationwide.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board unanimously approved changes to the agency’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy and Section 8 Administrative plans. One of the measures changed the frequency of Section 8 inspections from once a year to every two years for landlords in good standing with the agency. Another requires that elderly and disabled residents with stable incomes be re-certified every three years instead of annually.

The housing authority will also cut administrative costs when verifying residents’ assets, changing the threshold from $5,000 to $50,000, said Len Williams, the agency’s chief executive officer. And residents will be required to get liability insurance for pets.

“We anticipate saving $50,000 per year in administrative costs,” Williams said later about the new policies.

The board also gave the housing authority permission to consider an offer from the federal government that would lock the agency into a 95 percent subsidy for operational and capital expenses. The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program would be an alternative to fluctuating subsidies the agency has received the past few years because of federal budget cuts. The agency’s federal subsidy is currently at about 83 percent.

Lisa Walters, chief financial officer, said the agency is considering applying for the RAD funding for Farley Homes, E.J. Knight Gardens and Apartments, Nicholson Terrace Apartments and Wilson Homes. The program would allow the agency to secure ownership of the properties and then borrow against them for renovations, she said.

“Implementing the RAD program would provide a more stable revenue stream for HACG and would allow access to the private capital markets for funding modernization work at existing HACG properties,” Williams said.

On Wednesday, board members also went into executive session to discuss a real estate matter. When they returned, Chairman Larry Cardin said no action was taken. The board then voted to allow the housing authority to pursue an opportunity for the possible purchase of real estate property for multi-family units.

In other business, the board re-elected Cardin as board chair and elected board member Charles Alexander vice chair, a position previously held by Wade “Trip” Tomlinson III, who resigned in April.

Tomlinson, the husband of Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, resigned after some in the community expressed concern that his position was influencing the mayor’s decisions on public housing issues. Tomlinson said he resigned because his presence had become a distraction to the agency’s mission to provide quality housing for the community and revitalize blighted neighborhoods. Mayor Tomlinson chose Ken Henson, a local attorney, to fill the position.