Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Fuller Discussion on “The Bricks” – Part 3

Due to illness and travel, posting of the remainder of this series was delayed. We apologize for any inconvenience.

(Editorial Note: Debbie Campbell works for a financial network that funds affordable housing of various economic models throughout the country. Terry Cohen’s prior legislative advocacy efforts included programs focused on increasing economic self-sufficiency of women, families and lower income individuals.)

Below this post are the first two installments that chronicled the timeline of events concerning “The Bricks,” a property in the Church Street area accepted by the city as a donation. A number of citizens have expressed concern that $1.8 million dollars of state money may be spent on less than 10 units of affordable rental housing units and question whether governments should be landlords. Others are concerned about putting more rentals into a neighborhood already distressed by a serious lack of homeownership and job opportunity.

In our efforts to promote meaningful discussion on these issues, rehabilitation of the Bricks has moved forward without what we believe to be the requisite oversight and transparency by elected representatives that citizens expect and deserve. The timeline picks up after the October 6, 2008, work session where consensus was not taken on how to move forward with the Bricks.

October 7, 2008 – Daily Times article reports on October 6, 2008, work session (“Bricks to become temp housing”), erroneously stating that “The City Council agreed that they want to see ‘The Bricks’ turned into temporary housing to prepare low-income renters for homeownership.” No consensus was taken by Council President Smith to that effect, and one council member actually expressed concern about “incubators” (housing intended to prepare residents for the next step in self-sufficient housing).

December 17, 2008 – City administrator emails copies of proposed Bricks RFP and Lease Agreement to council with a request for comments by December 30. (NOTE: The request to supply this information to council was where the October 6, 2008, work session ended, not with a consensus to move the RFP forward. For differing reasons, neither of us had seen the email with the documents. If we had, we would have supplied comments or at least responded that we had none. Either way, it was our belief that Council President Smith would bring the RFP and lease for discussion and consensus prior to any official action, since council had not acted as a body on it yet.

Post December 17, 2008 – We heard nothing for months, but given the long lapses of information to council on the Bricks previously, this did not seem all that unusual. However, come summer, the silence did seem odd and inquiries resumed.

June 12, 2009 – Campbell emails Mayor Ireton and asks for a status report on the Bricks because an update on the Bricks is scheduled for a CSAFE neighborhood meeting. No response was received.

June 25, 2009 - Campbell emails Mayor Ireton again for an update on the Bricks. Mayor Ireton responds he will check with City Administrator John Pick and have him follow up.

August 4, 2009 – Assistant City Administrator Loré Chambers sends email to Council President Smith and Vice President Comegys about mapping revitalization plans for Church, including the Bricks, advising that Homes for America, Inc. is “proceeding with environmental assessment.” Mayor Ireton and City Administrator John Pick are copied on email. Mayor Ireton adds to email and asks that the email thread be copied to council.

August 4, 2009 – Chambers forwards email to three remaining council members, with copies to the mayor and Pick. Campbell sends a “Reply All” email to Chambers requesting that an update on the Bricks be put on a work session agenda. (Smith and Comegys accidentally not included on this email because they were not on recipient list of one sent by Chambers.) Chambers emails reply only to Campbell that she will ask Pick to get the update on an upcoming work session agenda.

August 8, 2009 – Chambers makes update presentation on the Bricks at CSAFE neighborhood meeting.

Post August 8, 2009 – The Bricks does not come to a work session agenda. The next council hears about the Bricks, a request comes in September 25, 2009, to place a resolution on the September 28, 2009, legislative session agenda as an “emergency item” to allow Homes for America to submit a grant application to the state on behalf of the City for funding predevelopment costs on rehabilitating the Bricks.

As you can see from this installment, the summer of 2009 was the first real indication for council as a whole that something was moving with the Bricks and that it was Mayor Ireton who started the information sharing after he received Councilwoman Campbell’s inquiries.

In our next post on the Bricks, we’ll start with the September 25, 2009, request to add the Bricks as an “emergency item.” This was when we learned what had transpired while council as a body received no updates.