Monday, December 22, 2014

Citizen Has Concerns About Hudson Place Development

What Happens In African American Communities Matter!
“Injustice Anywhere, Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If ever there is to be a faithful progression of trust in our communities, there must first be some indication of transparency and belief that what happens in all communities matter. There must also be an established confidence in our communities that a “good work” is happening and that the concerns of the residents are valued.

Our City Leaders have done an excellent job in their recovery efforts, after the April 28th devastating tornado. This article is not meant to diminish these positive efforts, but to bring light to the fact that the community needs to be kept abreast of all economic, housing, political developments that directly impact it.

The Hudson Place Development, under construction on Hill Street at the intersections of Jernigan and Brown Streets, revealed two disappointing factors:

Residents’ concerns didn’t matter, revealed by the lack of adequate, appropriate, and timely

Community Notification.

Residents were devalued, revealed by the lack of transparency by the Mississippi Home

Corporation (MHC) and City Leaders.

These two factors are related and it’s important to understand their order and priority. If there is transparency and residents are valued, then their concerns are considered worth hearing and usually a “good work” is the outcome.

Using the April 28th tornado that destroyed homes in Louisville, Mississippi -Winston County as a truthful and well motivating determinant, the system has allowed a developer to possibly destroy the very fabric of a well-established African American Community. This development was known in advance by our city leaders who chose to take a “hands-up - it’s a private property” attitude. Our city officials remained mute about the details of their plan “B” after their plan “A” failed for a similar development in Academy Park, also located in an African American Community. They apparently hid behind the darkened cloak of the development being that of a “private” developer’s, rather than working for the best interest of those who elected them. It seems our city leaders took a self-proclaimed idea of what was best for the community without first seeking input from the residents of the community.

The residents of this African American Community were not able to express their concerns in a timely matter; had they been able to, perhaps a better or different outcome would have resulted. When approximately three families initially were informed about the development, they were told by a city leader that it’s a “done deal”. At that time, trees had already been marked for cutting and clearing started. You can imagine the emotions of hopelessness, despair, and anger felt, when more of the residents learned that the development of the Hudson Place was already in progress; without any prior communication notification.

After talking with residents of the affected community, communicating with the Mississippi Home Corporation representatives, and being summoned by the Hinds County Chancery Court (for requesting the release of public information regarding the application process), I learned the following:

The United States Internal Revenue Service awarded tax credits to the State of Mississippi. The Governor appointed the Mississippi Home Corporation to allocate these tax credits, using criteria listed in a Quality Allocation Plan (QAP).

I was initially told that Hudson Place Development, LP, fell under the guidelines of the 2013 Quality Allocation Plan that had established threshold criteria to meet. One threshold was Community Notification. According to the 2013 QAP, page 33, Eligibility Requirements, Section 7: Threshold Factors: “A public hearing regarding the proposed development must be held at least 15 days prior to the cycle opening date”. This is one of the five threshold factors a development must meet in order to be eligible for consideration of a tax credit award. Another portion of this threshold is Local Government Notice, QAP, page 34: the developer is required to notify the Mayor or President of the Board of Supervisors and Council Person, Alderman and/or local Supervisor for the district in which the proposed development will be located, in advance of the public hearing date. (e.g. for the City, the Mayor and Council Person/Alderman for the district in which the development is proposed to be located).

August 19, 2014, two representatives from the MHC attended a FEMA/MEMA Strategic Housing Recovery Planning Team meeting where the community was planning a comprehensive housing recovery agenda for Louisville and Winston County. At this meeting, one of the MHC representatives mentioned their communication with the city leader about a short term project and needless to say, in afterthought, I missed the significance of that comment.

September 10, 2014, according to their minutes, the MHC Board of Directors approved the request to allocate $750,000 Low Income Housing Tax Credits to a representative from Hughes Construction for the City of Louisville.

October 6th and 8th, 2014, city officials signed the Acknowledgement Notice of Public Hearing form, a threshold requirement of the 2013 QAP.

October 15, 2014, Hughes Construction submitted a date to MHC of advertisement for public hearing. This date must be at least four days (4), but no earlier than twenty (20) days prior to the public hearing, per 2013 QAP.

October 20, 2014, date of public hearing that Hughes Construction submitted to MHC on the Notice of Publication form, which is a threshold form.

This date must be at least fifteen (15) days prior to the cycle opening date, per 2013 QAP.

A public hearing was conducted at Louisville City Hall by Hudson Place representatives, on October 20, 2014. This was the first time the residents and the community had an opportunity to hear and voice their concerns about the Hudson Place Development; concerns which appear, now, to meet the adage of a” done deal”.

MHC informed me that Hudson Place was given a special award, made with returned tax credits, under the authority given to MHC by the QAP and guidelines of Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code. Later, MHC acknowledged that many of the requirements were waived or amended. For instance, Hudson Place was not required to file an application beforehand and the public hearing requirements were amended due to the special nature of the award. It is stated on page 6 of the 2013 QAP, that MHC will make available to the public written explanation for any tax credit allocation, which were not made in accordance with the established priorities and selection criteria of the agency. I requested a written explanation from MHC as it specifically related to the lack of timely Community Notification by Hudson Place Development, LP. In summary, I was informed that “due to the exigent nature of the award MHC staff agreed to work with Mr. Hughes regarding his application and the timelines therein”. This is confirmation that the concerns of the residents about what happened in their community just didn’t matter.

Following are some of the comments from the public hearing held after the “deal was done”:

Construction of thirty-five (35) rent-to own houses (providing the renters an available purchase option at the end of the 15 year lease period) has the potential to disrupt and possibly destroy a well-established community of family owned homes. A community where some have called home for 30-40 years and where young families have come, built and maintained their homes in this quiet community of family owned homes.

The construction of these thirty-five rental houses will contribute to congestion in a community where they have already accepted three apartment complexes. One of these complexes is Winston Place, a tax credit entity, also developed by Hughes Construction.

Even though the developer plans to provide on-site recreational facilities for the residents of the development, residents of these thirty-five rental houses will increase the population of adults and children in a community where there are no nearby recreational facilities for the community at large.

Furthermore, the residents stated at the hearing that the cutting of trees and movement of dirt for the development of Hudson Place will add to the longstanding, and still unresolved, flooding and erosion problems they are experiencing in the area.
One of the questions asked at the hearing was “are these HUD houses”? The developer’s response was “no”. In the 2013 QAP, on page 57 under Monitoring –Certification and Review it states: that an owner is required to certify that it has not refused to lease a unit in the development to a Section 8 applicant solely because the applicant holds a Section 8 housing choice voucher.

Finally, another concern voiced at the public hearing was whether this development would lend itself to the Housing Strategic Planning Committee’s goal of establishing racially diverse communities or would it continue to perpetuate our already predominantly racially segregated communities.

Let me be perfectly clear, these residents are not opposed to quality, affordable, and family owned homes in their community.

We must not continue to think that one segment of the populace knows what is best for another segment of the populace. “We might have come over in separate ships, but we are in the same boat, now”. So, let’s work together for the good of all!

“Our Lives Begin to End the Day We Become Silent about Things That Matter”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Carolyn R. Hampton