History appears to be repeating in Cutliff issue

ALBANY -- When it comes to Community Housing Development Organizations, the city has had a tough time avoiding bad deals and poor oversight.

Tonight, the commission will decide on whether to accept a proposal from a former CHDO -- Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center (FRC) -- to transfer 1.07 acres of land meant for a failed low-income housing development back to the city in exchange for first refusal rights.

While the city may have lost $364,000 on that development, its hardly the first time that they've had hardships developing low-income housing.

According to minutes from official city government meetings dating back to 2004, City Commissioners have had to deal with staff oversights, poor planning and questionable business practices from both within their own ranks and among those of the CHDOs.

One recent example surrounds the New Jerusalem development which, unlike others, had been built, but had changed hands a few times while city leaders doled out federal housing funding.

Currently, New Jerusalem is operated by FRC who bought the property for $1.5 million from the city after city officials were forced to pay off an IRS lien when the previous owners walked away from the property.

FRC has managed the property since 2007, providing low-income housing to tenants under federal housing guidelines. They're set to begin making payments on the property this year, city records show.

Commissioners also were burned by a former CHDO who tried to built low-cost housing, but were fought by area residents and others.

Trinity Development, an arm of Trinity Metropolitan Baptist Church, tried to develop Country Club Estates, but were decertified as a CHDO by the city's Department of Community and Economic Development.

According to minutes from meetings, former DCED Director Jennifer Clark told commissioners Trinity was decertified because of a lack of proper paperwork. Trinity, led by the church pastor the Rev. Joseph Howard, is locked in litigation in federal court over the development.

But as both of those situations were unfolding, some on the commission expressed concern over the city's oversight and safeguards to ensure tax dollars weren't spent improperly.

In a June 21, 2005, meeting, former commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Bo Dorough advised staff to scrutinize CHDOs more carefully as the board considered the first allocation of federal funding for the Grovetown development.

"These costs are going for administrative and planning and added that he thinks we need to be more vigilant in supervising the CHDOs if we are getting bricks and mortar done," according to the official meeting minutes.

At the time, Albany Water, Gas & Light General Manager Lemuel Edwards was the interim city manager, with Kevin Hogencamp as the assistant city manager and Jennifer Clark as the head of the DCED overseeing CHDOs.

Later that year, when FRC came back to the commission asking for funds "above and beyond" the $101,000 set-aside funds to start up and plan their development, city staff, under the direction of newly-hired City Manager Alfred Lott, told the commission that if funding for the Grovetown project was misspent, that it could be recovered.

"Mr. Hamilton advised that we can withdraw the funds; however, if it is determined that the project is not moving in the proper direction, they can also request that the funds be repaid if not spent appropriately," the Dec. 13, 2005, minutes state.

More recently commissioners have acknowledged past mistakes with CHDOs and expressed concern to avoid making them again.

The March 20, 2007, meeting minutes state "Mayor Pro Tem (Tommie) Postell expressed concerns with CHDO and not repeating past errors."

In that meeting, the commission was voting to allow an annual distribution of federal HOME funding to develop and rehabilitate housing.

More than $776,000 in total HOME funding was awarded for the year, with FRC a partial recipient.

Later that year, Mayor Willie Adams criticized the former operators of the New Jerusalem development for their management of the project.

"He said that it is unsettling when a savvy person/organization can abscond with an amount of money such as this, obtain an attorney, and just walk away from it; it sets the stage for others to follow their lead," the minutes state.

While CHDOs in recent memory have made headlines for unsuccessful developments, some are working. The city's only remaining CHDO, Second Mt. Olive, has managed to build various low-cost housing developments.