Community Housing Resources Draws Reaction
Members who resigned from the Community Housing Resources board of directors have issued a statement outlining their reasons for leaving.
Their reasons center primarily around a lack of confidence in how the director of the not-for-profit organization that has provided below market rate housing services for the City of Sanibel since 1979, has conducted operations since her hire.
The statement signed by resigning members Michael Cuscaden, Lynn Ridlehoover, Debbie Friedlund and Jill Dillon says “Nancy Fash-McHenry, Executive Director of CHR for the last six months, has repeatedly violated the rules outlined in the Policy Manual by both her actions and inactions,” a claim Fash-McHenry denies.
Dillon, a long-serving Secretary to the Board of CHR, said she and others felt compelled to speak out because they felt their names and record of service had been “smeared” in published statements.
Dillon said the four, who previously declined comment, felt it necessary to set the record straight.
In addition to their statement, which was copied to the board and members of the Sanibel City Council, Dillon provided a separate list of grievances that allege the executive director violated policies and rules in terms of the transfer of tenants, failure in terms of meeting operational duties and deficiencies in fundraising which Dillon indicates as being one of the “primary” expectations in Fash-McHenry’s appointment.
CHR President Richard Johnson says he is disappointed by the claims being made by the former board members. During a meeting of the CHR Executive Committee held Nov. 28, Chairman Johnson was asked whether the executive director had violated housing rules by transferring a tenant without consent of the Board, and more precisely, the Landlord Tenant Committee which had typically held authority over that process.
Johnson indicated that this had, in fact, occurred. He also noted that the executive director had been called out for what he described as a “personnel mistake” and said she had been “corrected”.
The situation reportedly involved the transfer of a single tenant into a two bedroom unit who, despite heart conditions, now has to walk-up and down a flight of stairs when leaving or entering her unit. Efforts are now under way to find a new residence for the tenant and this was discussed at length during the Executive Committee Meeting.
The resigned board members further assert neglect in terms of raising funds for the not-for-profit and inefficiencies in providing proper data for their review. Fash-McHenry maintains that she has tried to act in the best interest of CHR, “but daily chaos monopolized so much of my time.”
During the Executive Committee session, members spent more than four hours addressing the range of tenant and organizational needs.
While their determinations will now be subject to approval by the CHR Board meeting on Dec. 12, a number of recommendations were made.
Among them: removing authority in the manner of tenant applications from what will become a new Landlord Tenant Committee. When created, this LTC will serve more as an information and education panel which will help address tenant grievances and serve to review applications which, now, will be subject to approval by the executive director and City Manager Judi Zimomra.
The Executive Committee also deliberated on efforts to resolve the organization’s debt burden and empowered Member Ray Pavelka to negotiate with existing creditors. Collectively, the group maintained that pending closing on property and restructuring of loan agreements posed to offer relief as CHR continues to push through financial difficulties.
Financial improvements also would reportedly come from new fees that tenants will now pay, stemming from the removal of utility allowances that previously had been granted.
In a letter addressed to tenants on Nov. 30, it was indicated that the rate change would see an increase in rental fees from $55 to $172 per month. As there are also increases in waste disposal and water sewage fees (as determined by vendors) tenants also will be expected to pay these costs, adding an additional $64 to $90 per month to their fees.
While it was agreed that these changes might be difficult for tenants, it was deemed that overall rents are so low that it shouldn’t pose too difficult a hardship.
Johnson maintained that the organization is dedicated to its mission and purpose, and is committed as ever to making the necessary improvements to secure the organization’s fiscal viability and make the necessary appointments to restore the losses to the board.
Confidence in the organization was further expressed during the City Council Meeting of Dec. 6. City liaison Doug Congress said the city is reviewing the existing contract which expires in September of 2012.
“I think they’re heading in the right direction,” said Congress. Indicating property closings would help bring “an infusion” of funds and, when coupled with fundraising efforts, loan restructuring and plans to generate revenue streams, “I am more comfortable than I was several months ago,” said Congress.
In preparing for a new contract, Vice Mayor Mic Denham inquired whether Congress could take a more proactive role with the organization. This was also encouraged by Mayor Kevin Ruane who said he would like to see objectives incorporated within the agreement, leading to measurable benchmarks and goals.
He said the City remains in full support of CHR, calling it essential and necessary.
“I think we have a right to probe… and set conditions that are in the best interest of our community,” said Ruane.
He emphasized the need for “definitive information” as to how the CHR anticipates moving forward and added that he would like Congress to prepare documentation of “a fallback plan” should CHR not be able to meet its goals.
The mayor, however, indicated that takeover by the city, as encouraged by the former Board members, was not a direction the city wants to go, whether it is even possible.
Though the Council did not address the statement made by the former board embers, Congress noted the tension that had existed.
“We’ve all served on boards before, some get along very well, some don’t. I don’t want to say they were dysfunctional, but they don’t agree,” he said.
“They couldn’t come to concensus, hopefully now, they can come together,” said Congress, indicating that the crux of dispute stemmed from disagreement concerning actions of the executive director.
To that end, the personnel committee of CHR has just completed a performance review of Nancy Fash-McHenry. It is expected that this will follow with recommendations during the Dec. 12 meeting of the CHR Board of Directors.
At the November 14 Community Housing & Resources (CHR) Board meeting, three members of the 10 member Board resigned, Jill Dillon, Mike Cuscaden and Lynn Ridlehoover, and a fourth Board member will be resigning within the month. In addition, the entire Landlord/Tenant Committee has resigned. This leaves the remaining Board with six members, two of whom were newly elected this past summer, one Officer and one Board member.
The City of Sanibel’s Community Housing Program is founded on the integrity of its dealings with applicants and tenants alike, and conduct of operations are based on strict adherence to the CHR Policy Manual developed from the Sanibel Code. The Landlord/Tenant Committee (now resigned) in the recent past has consisted of five members (Lynn Ridlehoover and Jill Dillon were Co-Chairs) with the members having collectively worked on this committee for over 34 years. Their dedication to the CHR mission has never been challenged. The Landlord/Tenant Committee, vested by the Board of Directors, has both the authority and responsibility to serve as watchdog for proper adherence to the Code and the Policy Manual, with the Manual updated periodically by the Committee. All applicants and tenant issues are subject to initial review and approval by the Committee.
Nancy Fash-McHenry, Executive Director of CHR for the last six months, has repeatedly violated the rules outlined in the Policy Manual by both her actions and inactions. Although the Landlord/Tenant Committee and now resigned Board members, plus responsible staff members, protested her methods of operation to three Officers of the Executive Committee, they refused to exert their authority over Ms. McHenry. Finally, McHenry, functioning with perceived immunity, recently violated State Fair Housing laws by illegal placement of a tenant. This unilateral act, strongly protested by the Landlord/Tenant Committee, exposes the CHR Program to a potential lawsuit by this tenant, a major blow to both CHR’s image of integrity as well as to its fragile financial condition.
It is very disturbing, therefore, to be informed of public statements issued by CHR Officers which appear to assure Ms. McHenry of obtaining the permanent position of Executive Director at the Board Meeting to be held on December 12. Given Ms. McHnery’s poor performance during her probationary period, it is our opinion that she possesses neither the management and leadership skills, nor the high level of professional integrity required to uphold the standards demanded of a CHR Executive Director.
Even more disturbing we have recently learned that the Officers are plkanning immediately to turn over full responsibility for review and approval of all applicant and tenant matters from the L/T Committee to Ms. McHenry, the very person who in six months’ time has repeatedly flouted and bypassed with impunity the very regulations she is required to uphold. This elimination of the key role of the L/T Committee, namely citizen watchdog over the Executive Director’s adherence to Sanibel Code and CHR Policy, has very serious implications for the integrity of the entire CHR Program. No longer can taxpaying citizens and community donors who choose to support CHR be assured that CHR administration is dealing equitably and fairly toward applicants and tenants.
Therefore, it is our conviction there is only one way, and the very best way, to immediately restore the legitimacy of CHR — and that is by City takeover of the CHR Program. With City jurisdiction over all CHR operations, there can be no doubt of strict adherence to the Sanibel Code; we can be asured of obeisance to the sunshine law; we’ll see our current staff allowed to operate efficiently and effectively; we’ll see a volunteer Board which, no longer burdened with exccessive administrative functions, turn its expertise and energy to fundraising, the number one priority for an organization in serious financial distress. We’ll see new volunteers confidently joining this now well managed entity ready to give their time and expertise to specific worthwhile projects such as refurbishing the aging infrastructure of our rental units.
Given the new leadership provided by City Council and the City Manager it won’t be long before Sanibel citizens can once again take pride in a well-run, well-funded transparent CHR, a premier City program offering vital newly rehabilitated housing to deserving Sanibel citizens.
Signed by: Jill Dillon, Lynn Ridlehoover, Mike Cuscaden, Debbie Friedlund