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Divided council saves Goshen housing authority

The Goshen City Council approved saving the federal housing voucher program in the city after hours of contentious debate Tuesday evening.
Justin Leighty
Posted on Feb. 22, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — It took more than two hours of contentious debate and three council members to reverse their positions, but in the end the Goshen City Council voted to help keep subsidized housing intact in Goshen Tuesday night.

The council voted to contribute up to $571,050 from the city's $4.7-million rainy day fund to make up for a shortfall in the Goshen Housing Authority's voucher program.

The city will pitch in less than that, though, since the community already pitched in about $61,000, with more committed and under consideration.

Early into the meeting, Council President Tom Stump suggested that instead of picking up the balance of what money isn't raised from the community, that the city merely match outside donations.

The party-line vote by the Republican majority to approve Stump's proposal drew gasps from the audience and one shout of “Shame.”

Ed Bradford, who's a Republican, chided the council. “This has become political and that's a thing that should not have happened,” he said. “I don't care what your politics are, you've got to do what's right.”

Harry Scribner told the council, “We're not talking about money, we're talking about human lives. We're talking about children, we're talking about moms and dads struggling to make ends meet.”

Stump argued it doesn't seem fair that city taxpayers should pay to cover for federal money that was misappropriated.

According to Pam Kennedy, director of the recently established consortium between the Goshen and Warsaw housing authorities, the program was threatened because of two things — apparent past mismanagement which used up extra payments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and HUD telling housing authorities nationwide that they have to use up all extra money this year.

Audits are ongoing to find out what happened to the money and should be finished soon. An Indiana State Police investigation is also ongoing, according to the housing authority board. Nobody who worked there when the money went missing still works at the Goshen Housing Authority.

Monica Anderson, a single mom who gets vouchers, spoke Tuesday. “It's not our fault, it's not your fault,” she told the council members, but now, “it's our community's problem.”

The relatively new board and HUD knew the money was gone, but board members believed HUD was going to give them time to straighten up the program, according to board member Jason Lehman.

The recent nationwide mandate from HUD changed that. They're requiring housing authorities to use up all reserves in the housing assistance program.

Since the money isn't there in Goshen's case, HUD told the housing authority it has to cut 100 vouchers immediately and three per month after that, unless the authority can find other funding for the vouchers.

While some council members balked at raiding the rainy day fund, Denise Reesor told council members, “If this isn't a rainy day, I really don't know what would be.”

With Tuesday's vote, the program will stay intact.

Wayne Kramer, a Republican member of the housing authority board, warned the council that Stump's proposal “would be the death knell for the agency.”

Council members Ed Ahlersmeyer, Dixie Robinson and Jim McKee initially supported Stump's proposal. They wanted to wait and see whether the community would cover the shortfall, but ultimately voted to revoke Stump's proposal, drawing applause — and some tears — from the audience.

The approval to donate the money out of the city's rainy-day fund came with a string of conditions requiring accountability for the money and allowing the city to back out of monthly payments for the vouchers if the council decides the housing authority isn't headed in a positive direction. Councilman Jeremy Stutsman came up with the list of requirements.

Councilman Everett Thomas said it's the only time he's ever supported raiding the city's rainy-day fund.



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