22 people file to lead housing authority in Little Rock

Board to choose 3-5 for interviews

Twenty-two applicants submitted resumes vying to become the executive director of the Little Rock housing authority, but none came from internal candidates.

Metropolitan Housing Alliance board members will narrow the pool to between three and five candidates it hopes to invite for interviews at the beginning of February, commissioner Kenyon Lowe said. The job was posted at the start of January. The application period closed Thursday.

Once chosen, the new director will assume leadership of an agency that is converting its public housing complexes to Section 8 rental-assistance properties and dealing with the repercussions of a federal government shutdown that created uncertainty about agency funding.

Nine candidates work in Arkansas. Thirteen are from out-of-state, including from Kentucky, Ohio, California, New York, Michigan, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

Five work at housing authorities across the country, and one works for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helping manage housing authorities in Indiana. Six more are in housing-related fields such as realty or providing services to the homeless.

HUD provides most of the funding for local housing authorities.

The rest of the candidates are in unrelated fields — medicine, community engagement at a church and engineering, for example.

Commissioner Monique Sanders said she hopes to find a candidate with “experience and leadership ability.” Sanders added that such experience could be any skills that translate to housing. She joined the commission in November and has a background in finance.

Lowe said the most important attribute for a candidate is the ability to create ties with the community and create more collaboration between the city, county and nearby housing authorities on providing housing for low-income people.

“Nobody is talking,” Lowe said of the region’s housing issues. “There is no uniform effort. What I would like to see with this new individual is an effort to unify the county and the city in one voice so that we aren’t going in multiple directions.”

A National Low Income Housing Coalition study released early last year found that the United States lacks about 7.2 million rental homes that people with incomes at or below the federal poverty line can afford. The coalition is a nonprofit that works to “ensure decent, affordable housing for everyone,” according to its website.

The 2019 federal poverty line is considered to be $12,140 a year for an individual and $25,100 for a family of four.

Arkansas has a deficit of 59,445 homes that are at or below affordability for households below the federal poverty level or at 30 percent of the area’s median income, according to the housing coalition study. A home is considered “affordable” if renters spend at most 30 percent of their incomes on housing.

Sanders and Lowe said no internal candidates will be considered because they didn’t submit applications, although they were allowed to apply.

“We’re just trying to see who put their name in the ring and then we will decide,” Sanders said.

None of the other three commissioners responded to requests for comment by late Friday.

Sanders’ and Lee Lindsey’s first board meeting as commissioners was the day former executive director Rodney Forte resigned in November. He asked to leave the agency in January, but the board told him to resign Nov. 6.

Forte was at the agency for six years and made $133,000 annually.

His replacement will arrive at the Little Rock housing authority as it handles final details on moving forward with a major program conversion. The agency switched its three housing towers — Fred W. Parris, Cumberland and Jesse Powell — from public housing to Section 8 through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program.

The program, which started while Barack Obama was president, has expanded during President Donald Trump’s administration. It allows housing authorities to partner with private groups to inject more money into renovating old housing infrastructure.

Little Rock’s transition is handing over day-to-day management of the 597 households in the towers to private companies. Renovations are ongoing.

Two candidates mentioned their work on Rental Assistance Demonstration conversions. One is the executive director at a housing authority in Florida, and the other works in the private sector in Louisiana assisting housing authorities with the transitions.

Marshall Nash, the authority’s director of administrative and legal services, has served as a “special adviser” filling the role of executive director while board members searched for a replacement. Nash also oversees the human relations department.

At the last board meeting, Nash gave board members an update on how the agency planned to deal with the partial federal government shutdown if it lasted through February. The shutdown lasted 35 days and was the longest in U.S. history.

Trump agreed Friday to reopen the government temporarily while continuing the debate over whether to fund a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Democrats proposed a similar solution earlier in the week, but it did not get enough votes in the Republican-controlled Senate to advance it.

If politicians in Washington don’t pass a new funding agreement, the new executive director could be faced with some of the same issues — lack of money to pay workers, dipping into reserves to keep public housing afloat and not enough money to pay rental subsidies for Section 8 vouchers.

Programs through the housing authority assist low-income people with paying rent.

Diane Yentel, the president and chief executive officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, released a statement Friday after politicians reached the shutdown deal. The statement read that the shutdown would have longer-term effects on housing programs and called for a year-long agreement.

“The shutdown was a disgrace, causing stress and hardship for our country’s lowest-income and most vulnerable people,” Yentel’s statement read. “Over time, we will learn the extent of the longer-term damage done to the programs that serve them and to what extent the damage can be remedied.”


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