Report takes Niles Housing Commission to task

The Niles Housing Commission has been given four months to revamp its spending policies and practices.

The Commission’s Board of Directors has also been told to pay back some $15-hundred it allegedly mis-spent on legal services.

The demands are contained in an 81-page report on the Niles Housing Commission done by the regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Last Spring, the ordered eviction of a 92-year old woman from the Niles high rise brought significant attention to the Niles Housing Commission.

Concerns over how the eviction was handled, prompted a closer look at how the agency conducted business in general.

“What we have here is a housing commission gone wild,” said Benton Harbor Attorney Greg Ladewski.

That’s Ladewski’s take on a H.U.D. report that orders housing commission board members to butt out.

According to the report, the board members “have been directly and improperly addressing criminal, medical, grievance, and eviction issues.”

One example cited in the report involves a board member who negotiated an eviction dismissal without any granted authority from the board as a whole.

The report states, “It is the responsibility of the board to approve and adopt NHC (Niles Housing Commission) policies, not to enforce them, and certainly not to negotiate the dismissal of a management action.”

The report further finds that the board president ordered the shut down of an air handling system in order to save $30,000 in electricity costs. According to the report, the system is designed to keep airborne viruses in the building to a minimum.

The report orders that “the Board of Commissioners must immediately cease its involvement in the day to day operations of the housing commission.”

The report goes on to say “the role of Commissioners is specifically relegated to policy making, fiduciary and administrative oversight and maintenance of internal control systems. It is the hired Commission employees, under the direction of the Executive director, who are charged with the daily administration of the federally assisted housing program.”

The report also takes issue with the housing commission’s spending practices, citing a lack of competitive bidding when the board buys goods and services, and a lack of written contracts to guide its business relationships.

"There isn't one aspect of the housing commissioner’s activity that is not criticized or worse by this 81 page report,” said Ladewski.

Greg Ladewski feels the report bodes well for his client—David Martin—who is suing the commission after being terminated as Executive Director of the housing commission.

"The report, H.U.D.’s report paints a picture of an executive director who is following H.U.D.’s instructions with regards to ceasing illegal practices, implementing necessary policies, and who is being thwarted at every turn. Not only was he thwarted but he was punished for doing the right thing,” Ladewski said.

When contacted, Niles Housing Commission Vice President David Vanstrien said he was still going through the report, and that he hoped to get things resolved.

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