October's meeting of Minnesota Housing's board brought with it an explanation of upper management changes for the agency, approval of the much-discussed Affordable Housing Plan, and action on two different projects located in North Minneapolis, including one write-off and one expedited approval. In addition, Minnesota Housing was honored with a Project of the Year award by the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
The most significant staff move was the appointment of Barbara Sporlein as the agency's Deputy Commissioner. In this role, Sporlein will oversee agency planning as well as the research, human resources, and credit functions. Sporlein greeted the board, stating that she has been working with and been a fan of Minnesota Housing for over 20 years. She explained that she worked as a planner for the City of St. Paul, then at the St. Paul Public Housing Authority, and most recently as chief planner for the City of Minneapolis.
Commissioner Tingerthal also announced a restructuring of the agency's management team. The community development work of the agency, headed by Katy Lindblad, Assistant Commissioner for Community Development, is merging with the public policy activities, headed by Tonja Orr, Assistant Commissioner for Policy. The two will co-manage a new Policy and Community Development Division. Tingerthal said that many community development activities are inter-governmental, such as the participation of the agency in the Corridors of Opportunity initiative. She added that the change will bring many benefits, including enabling the agency to identify better who should represent the agency in such important, complex institutional arrangements. (An updated organizational chart for Minnesota Housing shows the new structure.)
Affordable Housing Plan Approved, Feedback Shared
With little discussion on its second hearing, the agency board approved without ammendments the 2012 Affordable Housing Plan (AHP), allocating $658 million from state, federal and Minnesota Housing sources. Commissioner Tingerthal conveyed two letters the agency had received in connection with the plan. One, from the Community Land Trusts, was in support of the plan. The other, by Hearth Connection and several other homelessness agencies, called for a redistribution of resources from home ownership activities to programs more directly benefitting homeless people. Tingerthal said that she did not advise reallocating funds at this time. She added that the agency will review its programs to ensure the sustainability of supportive units already produced, including an assessment of the viability of creating additional supportive units while preserving the existing units. (See also explanation of the plan and charts comparing funding from 2010-11 to 2012.)
Commissioner Tingerthal mentioned that the National Council of State Housing Agencies recognized Minnesota Housing with the Project of the Year award for the funding of several American Indian supportive housing projects. The agency has worked closely with the Minnesota office of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and several tribal governments to create and fund viable supportive housing developments both on and off reservation land. On a related note, Commissioner Tingerthal said that the first meeting of the reformed Interagency Council on Homelessness was held on October 20. Nine agency commissioners participated and agreed on a number of steps to advance the interagency work over the next couple of months.
Two North Minneapolis Projects Considered
Staff recommended, and the board approved, an agency "write-off" of a $206,000 deferred loan for the second phase of the north Minneapolis Lovell Square project. However, before approval, the board probed to understand the agency's process for approving write-offs.
Regarding process, agency staff told the board that troubled properties are each unique and are reviewed by the agency's program, legal and financial staff to determine the best course of action. With Lovell Square, staff said that the project suffered from vacancies and deferred maintenance with little capacity of the owner, Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, to rectify the situation. Staff added that Minnesota Housing risked legal exposure for having a financial stake in an abandoned property, and that the situation could be detrimental to the agency's bond rating and audit review if not addressed. Assistant Commissioner Marcia Kolb added that developing a written policy for handling write-offs fits within the scope of the agency's newly launched housing preservation initiative.
Staff also recommended that a proposal from the city of Minneapolis that had scored very high in the agency's competitive Super RFP process be approved at the meeting, one month ahead of the remaining selections, to expedite helping people in North Minneapolis repair homes damaged by the May tornado. This $750,000 award will allow about 50 additional homes to be repaired prior to winter. In response to a question from board member Sanderson, Cherie Shoquist, representing Minneapolis, said that for North Minneapolis' storm recovery, 500 properties remain untreated, of which 217 are owner occupied.
Finally, the board was notified that the November meeting would run longer to allow time for all the funding decisions that will need to be made under the Super RFP process.