A multimillion-dollar rehabilitation plan that aims to address badly needed repairs in many of Little Rock's public housing buildings is officially underway, Little Rock public housing officials have announced.
The Metropolitan Housing Alliance closed two deals this month to finalize the transfer of two 60-unit public housing buildings -- Cumberland Manor and Metropolitan Village -- into a public-private ownership arrangement between the housing agency and Gorman and Company Inc., a Wisconsin-based development and investment company.
The public-private arrangement is allowed under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rental Assistance Demonstration program. The program allows housing agencies to inject private dollars into crumbling public housing projects across the country in response to decades of underfunding from Congress.
The ownership structure of the public housing properties converted under the program would change. Under the arrangement between the Metropolitan Housing Alliance and Gorman and Co., the housing agency will hold the lease on the land where the buildings stand, while the private investor will own the buildings.
All existing residents of the properties will then be transferred to the housing agency's Section 8 housing voucher program and will make rent payments to the private investor.
The Metropolitan Housing Alliance -- the largest housing agency in the state -- was approved in 2015 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to redevelop nine properties in the agency's portfolio of 902 public housing units.
The agency's three largest properties -- the Fred W. Parris Towers, Cumberland Towers and Jesse Powell Towers, all built in the early 1970s -- are the buildings most in need of repairs, with a $50 million rehabilitation plan for the three.
Cumberland Manor and Metropolitan Village, on the other hand, are two of the agency's more intact properties. They will not be in need of any extensive remodeling, and thus will not require any residents to move out.
Moreover, the conversion of those properties resulted in "no fiscal impact to [the housing alliance's] operations," according to the agency.
But the closure of those deals between the Little Rock agency and Gorman and Co. officially kicks off the Rental Assistance Demonstration conversion process.
"It's the first step in our process, and [Cumberland Manor and Metropolitan Village] were the lower hanging fruit, if you will, so we've been able to get these done," housing alliance Director Rodney Forte said.
Both of the properties, located along South Scott Street in Little Rock, were constructed in 2009 with $15.5 million funded through bonds, low-income housing tax credits, state funds and multiple mortgages from the housing alliance.
A Rental Assistance Demonstration conversion for the housing authority's three towers, with 596 units between the three, has been pending since last year. Gorman and Co. originally set the towers' conversion for this month, but the complexities and magnitude of the project have delayed that process to a yet unknown date.
"It's a very complicated transaction. We got the [tax] credits, we've got most of the pieces in place that are very important -- partnership agreements and things of that nature. It's kind of like a marriage, it can be complicated," Forte said, describing the new partnership between Gorman and the housing agency.
The agency quit leasing out units to the towers in March to clear sections of the building for rehabilitation work, during which residents will be shuffled between units as work is completed on one section of the building at a time. Housing officials also have been going door to door to determine which residents will need moving accommodations and which will move on their own.
Tenants are required to be given a 90-day notice before relocation.
The housing agency expects to complete the conversion and rehabilitation of all of its nine public housing properties by 2020.
The North Little Rock Housing Authority is currently in the midst of the same conversion process.
The second largest housing agency in the state has reported $90 million of needed repairs across its eight properties while receiving $1 million a year from the Housing and Urban Development Department for building maintenance and renovations.
In January, the North Little Rock agency submitted its application to the department to convert three of its public housing projects -- Willow House, Campus Towers and Heritage House. Together, the three buildings have 457 units and are in need of $46 million to address urgent needs and repairs.
The Housing and Urban Development Department has not yet taken any action on North Little Rock's application, which is marked as "in-progress," according to a department spokesman. The turnaround time for the Metropolitan Housing Alliance application was 18 months between submission and response.
Across the state, more than 3,000 public housing units that are home to 10,000 people in 11 cities have completed or are in the process of completing a Rental Assistance Demonstration transition, according to federal records. Fort Smith's housing authority was the first to complete the transition after entering the program in 2014.
Metro on 07/23/2017
Print Headline: Public housing transfer begins