Hous­ing Au­thor­ity fol­lowed fed­eral rules, HUD says

Pro­posed plan for Mor­gan Manor ex­pan­sion would add 58 units

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - STACY RYBURN

FAYETTEVILLE — A pro­posed ex­pan­sion at Mor­gan Manor doesn’t vi­o­late a city or­di­nance or state or fed­eral statute, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment re­sponse to an in­quiry from the city at­tor­ney.

The de­vel­op­ment plan meets the city’s min­i­mum stan­dards as out­lined in the uni­fied de­vel­op­ment code, in­clud­ing not cre­at­ing or com­pound­ing a dangerous traf­fic sit­u­a­tion. The state Supreme Court says deny­ing a plan meet­ing min­i­mum stan­dards is ar­bi­trary, ac­cord­ing to City At­tor­ney Kit Williams.

“Be­cause of HUD’s re­sponse, my pre­vi­ous con­cern that there might be a law vi­o­la­tion tied to this pro­posal for large-scale de­vel­op­ment — I have to with­draw that now,” he said. “Ap­par­ently they have com­plied with ev­ery­thing that HUD has re­quested.”

The plan in front of the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion for two months would add 58

units on un­used acreage at Mor­gan Manor, 324 E. 12th Place. The Hous­ing Au­thor­ity op­er­ates the 52-unit com­plex un­der a form of Sec­tion 8 called the Rental As­sis­tance Demon­stra­tion pro­gram. The pro­gram com­bines public and pri­vate eq­uity to pro­vide rental as­sis­tance to low-in­come res­i­dents.

Res­i­dents liv­ing in public hous­ing at the 40 units of Wil­low Heights, 10 S. Wil­low Ave., could move to Mor­gan Manor. The Hous­ing Au­thor­ity has ap­plied for a tax credit to help pay for the project, along with sell­ing the Wil­low Heights prop­erty.

Lo­cal elec­tri­cian Vlad Tat­ter and his busi­ness part­ners have agreed to buy the prop­erty for $1.25 mil­lion and build

homes. HUD has to ap­prove the sale. Hous­ing Au­thor­ity of­fi­cials have said Wil­low Heights needs ex­ten­sive re­pairs and ren­o­va­tion, sit­ting on an un­sta­ble foun­da­tion with wan­ing fed­eral money to ad­dress the is­sues.

The item has re­mained on the ta­ble while Williams awaited the re­sponse from the fed­eral agency. The Plan­ning Com­mis­sion on Mon­day will re­move the pro­posal from the ta­ble and dis­cuss it. Williams ad­vised com­mis­sion­ers in a memo they can­not legally con­sider the wis­dom of the pro­posal.

“The Plan­ning Com­mis­sion has no power or au­thor­ity to ques­tion the prop­erty owner’s ra­tio­nale or rea­sons sup­port­ing its de­vel­op­ment de­ci­sions,” Williams wrote.

The move has be­come a source of con­tro­versy for sev­eral south Fayetteville res­i­dents. Outspoken crit­ics have ques­tioned the need for the pro­posal, iso­lat­ing low-in­come res­i­dents at one site, the con­nec­tiv­ity of the Mor­gan Manor prop­erty and other as­pects.

Jessie Cas­sella, staff at­tor­ney with the Na­tional Hous­ing Law Project, said the process to move res­i­dents from one prop­erty to an­other and sell the old land, known as the trans­fer of as­sis­tance, raises con­cerns. HUD has cer­tain re­quire­ments, but what res­i­dents want some­times gets lost in the shuf­fle, she said. The project is a non­profit cen­ter that ad­vo­cates for fair hous­ing.

For ex­am­ple, a fair hous­ing re­view says the new prop­erty shouldn’t lie “sig­nif­i­cantly far” from the orig­i­nal site, Cas­sella said. Also, only three meet­ings with af­fected res­i­dents are re­quired be­tween the time a hous­ing au­thor­ity is thinking about ap­ply­ing to the Rental As­sis­tance Demon­stra­tion pro­gram and the of­fi­cial con­ver­sion, she said.

“For these types of sit­u­a­tions, es­pe­cially where fair hous­ing is at risk par­tic­u­larly for folks who are mem­bers of pro­tected classes based on their race or eth­nic­ity or age or things like that, cer­tainly HUD should be do­ing more to make sure there are enough pro­tec­tions for those ten­ants,” Cas­sella said.

De­niece Smi­ley, Fayetteville Hous­ing Au­thor­ity di­rec­tor, said the Mor­gan Manor project has fol­lowed fed­eral re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing pay­ing for ten­ants’ moves and get­ting a fair hous­ing re­view.

“I was con­fi­dent that we had fol­lowed all the rules and we were in com­pli­ance,” Smi­ley said. “So, I was pleased with the re­sponse.”

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