Housing authority meeting June 2014. Matt Rose/Carolina Public Press
Dozens of residents of Asheville's public housing developments attended a meeting of the housing authority's board on Wednesday, when the board approved moving forward with a plan to change the way the authority manages and funds the agency. Matt Rose/Carolina Public Press
Dozens of public housing residents attended a Wednesday meeting of the Asheville housing authority’s governing board. The board approved continuing with a plan to change how it manages and funds the agency, the largest public housing authority in Western North Carolina. Matt Rose/Carolina Public Press

ASHEVILLE — After a debate about transparency and promises from staff to better inform residents, the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville’s governing board moved forward Wednesday with approving new public housing voucher rules. The new rules are part of an unprecedented and controversial overhaul in the authority’s management and financing called Rental Assistance Demonstration.

The board’s unanimous approval of the step isn’t the final green light for the change — that’s expected to come up for a vote at its July meeting. But it does give the go-ahead to new guidelines necessary for it to proceed.

Earlier in the day, the five board members received a letter from a coalition of residents and local nonprofits calling for a delay in final approval of the Rental Assistance Demonstration project, also known as RAD, pending new information sessions with a third-party facilitator and more representation for residents of Asheville’s roughly 1,500 public housing units. [Read the letter in its entirety, below.]

Some residents and groups involved in the coalition have asserted that residents haven’t been adequately informed or their concerns taken into consideration as the housing authority moved forward with converting to RAD.

The issue of a lack of information came up again as the board voted on submitting its annual plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While not key to RAD proceeding like the new voucher guidelines, the document does incorporate RAD into plans for Asheville’s public housing going forward. When it came up for a public hearing, residents said they didn’t feel like they’d received notice about the document they were supposed to comment on.

“We need to look at it before we can speak on it,” Pisgah View Association Vice President Sir Charles said.

Authority Chief Operating Officer David Nash said that notice about the hearing had been advertised in the (Asheville) Citizen-Times and the plan was posted in the authority’s central office.

“Have these documents been made available, to be seen by residents of public housing at their developments?” Hillcrest resident Itiyopiya Ewart asked. “Was it at any of the housing development offices?”

“I’m not sure that it was,” Nash said. “That’s something we can certainly take as a comment we can receive, that it should be available at those offices in the future.”

“I don’t feel like housing is getting enough of this information out to the people,” Charles said. “How can we have questions and comments on a paper we just received seconds ago?”

“It was posted 45 days, not a second ago,” authority CEO Gene Bell replied.

Members of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville's governing board, including Chair Brian Weinkle (center), listen during the meeting Wednesday on whether to move forward with overhauling the agency's funding and management. Matt Rose/Carolina Public Press
Members of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville’s governing board, including Chair Brian Weinkle (center), listen during the meeting Wednesday on whether to move forward with overhauling the agency’s funding and management. Matt Rose/Carolina Public Press

“Has anyone in our community seen this paper? Anyone here from public housing?” Charles asked the roughly 30 people in attendance. The residents said they hadn’t.

“It puts the onus of responsibility on residents to go and seek the information,” Ewart said. “At the same time, when there’s anything else we need to be notified of, we’re getting it at our local office and at our door. If it’s like that for notices of CPR training, it should be that way for very important documentation.”

“I agree with you 100 percent,” Bell said in response to the residents’ concerns. “We’ll do this differently. I take that point and we’ll correct that.”

Asheville housing authority CEO Gene Bell
Asheville housing authority CEO Gene Bell

In the future, he said, such information would be posted to individual developments and the housing authority’s website.

“We do need to do a better job of getting information out,” he said.

He noted that the plan could be amended, and after some back-and-forth discussion with the members of the board and the residents, agreed to meet July 7 after the residents had enough time to review the plan and revise it accordingly before the housing authroity submits the final plan to HUD.

After this agreement, the board approved sending the plan forward unanimously once the residents’ comments are received.

There was less debate over approval of the housing vouchers. Nash noted that some of the rules changes are to ensure that tenants’ rights are protected during the shift to the RAD program. The board then passed the move unanimously, noting that it had received the coalition’s letter expressing their concerns.

“If you want to meet with me, anybody, if you call me, we’ll come and meet with you,” Bell said. “I hope we get to a point where we’re communicating. I don’t ask you to like it, but I do ask you to be aware of the intricate details and make sure there isn’t any more information.”

Pisgah View Association President Iindia Pearson told Carolina Public Press she believed interactions with HACA were “an improvement, just for the simple fact that there seemed to be more communication between the board and residents.”

“I feel like a lot of our concerns were addressed appropriately,” she said.

But she said she remained adamant that the final approval of RAD needs to be delayed.

“I still believe the residents need to be informed; I still don’t think that’s been done at this point,” she said. “As for next month, we’ll see.”

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David Forbes is a former contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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