Homestead - South Dade

Housing Authority finds solidarity, renews contract for management company

The typically fraught Homestead Housing Authority sailed through its monthly meeting on Thursday in nearly 20 minutes, approving a new personnel handbook, renewing contracts, and getting positive updates on ongoing construction.

“We didn’t intend it to be that fast, but we’ve been looking for solidarity in the group and that’s what we’re finding,” HHA board chairman Michael Goodman said after the meeting.

One agenda item that was expected to stoke debate: the contract renewal for Nelson and Associates, the company in charge of property management for the HHA’s roughly 300 units of USDA-subsidized farmworker housing.

The HHA has been contracting with Nelson and Associates since 2012, after a federal audit revealed chronic mismanagement of the properties and demanded the agency get outside help.

The HHA’s former executive director spent the better part of last year fighting with the USDA to regain self-management. He was repeatedly slapped down, with the federal agency citing his own lack of public housing experience as a key reason.

But with new executive director Shane White now at the helm, some HHA commissioners last month floated the idea of working toward self-management again.

Other commissioners were adamantly against the idea, and White himself argued that at least for now, the agency had its plate full. He also told commissioners that it would have to hire more staff and spend more resources, negating in part or entirely the potential savings of ending the Nelson and Associates contract.

A key proponent of pursuing self-management was commissioner Russell Black, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

The Nelson and Associates contract was renewed for two years, although like before, it carries a 60-day termination clause. The company gets about $180,000 annually from the USDA, depending on the number of rented units.

As for the $3 million USDA grant earmarked to build 30 new townhome-style units for farmworkers that the HHA was in jeopardy of losing — the housing authority had let the funds go unused for too long — White finally heard back late last month from the USDA. His request for a one-year clemency period had been granted.

According to White, demolition is already underway on the 18 units that need to be razed, and all is on schedule.

“Already seven or eight buildings are flat,” he said. “We’re right where we want to be. I’m shocked.”

In other action, the HHA board:

▪ Renewed a one-year, $42,000 contract with grant consultant Abbie Weist.

▪ Approved the purchase of a new truck for to service its South Dade housing center.