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Feds end management of Detroit’s public housing

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — After nearly a decade under federal oversight, the Detroit Housing Commission earlier this month was returned to local control.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan hosted a press conference at the Woodbridge Apartment Community Center along with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and DHC Executive Director Kelley Lyons to discuss DHC’s move away from federal receivership, which was effective March 16.

“It’s an important day for us,” Duggan said. “Once again, the City of Detroit is capable of managing its own affairs.”

In July 2005, HUD took control of the DHC because of what the federal agency called “significant regulatory compliance deficiencies,” including problems with financial records, poor housing unit conditions and HOPE VI grants that were in default due to lack of construction progress, according to HUD.

“Where we’re standing was a vacant lot a few years ago,” Castro said during the press conference. “It was one of the Hope VI projects stalled by neglect.”

Castro said the return of the DHC to local control reflects a milestone that was “a decade in the making.”

“Scores of DHC apartments were in total disrepair,” Castro said of conditions before the federal takeover. Many of those apartments could not be rented, which resulted in low occupancy rates despite high demand, he said.

“I’m pleased to say the once-troubled DHC has made a complete turnaround,” he said. “We worked with Kelley (Lyons) and her team to make the agency more accountable to the families that counted on us.”

As the DHC returns to local control, Duggan said he is focused on expanding low-income options and preserving existing units.

The preservation will begin with 5,000 units scheduled to lose low-income status within the next two years, he said.

“The No. 1 focus I’m going to have with this new housing commission is preserving those 5,000 units and making sure we have a place for everybody in this community,” he said.

Duggan said he wants to avoid a situation similar at the apartments at 1214 Griswold, where he said residents were forced out of their low-income housing when a new owner bought the property.

“If people get removed from low-income units, that’s not the kind of city we’re trying to build,” he said. “With the Detroit Housing Commission back in the hands of the city government again, we’re going to be much more aggressive about expanding low-income housing options.”

The DHC met a number of requirements to warrant moving from federal to local control, officials say, including a full financial audit with no findings since 2007 and full compliance with HUD’s financial and management regulations since 2010.

“Additionally, last year the DHC received a passing HUD inspection score for every public housing development for the first time in more than two decades,” officials said in the statement Monday.

The DHC also has made progress with construction on delayed HOPE VI projects, including the Cornerstone Estates, Emerald Springs Apartments, the Gardenview Estates, and the Woodbridge Estates, where Tuesday’s press conference took place.

In all, the DHC has created or rehabilitated more than 500 public housing units, officials said in a second statement Tuesday.

Lyons compared modern low-income housing to infamous Detroit projects of the past.

“We’ve come a long way,” she said. “Herman Gardens is now a memory instead of our present and our future.”

Some of the first steps taken by the new DHC included hiring an executive director to oversee day-to-day operations, reduce staffing levels and increase the occupancy rate of public housing units to 97 percent, up from 70 percent in 2005, officials said.

Additionally, Duggan appointed a five-member board of commissioners to provide oversight of the DHC.

“There is a professional team in place,” Duggan said. “I can’t change the past; all I can do is do my best in the future.”

The atmosphere Tuesday was celebratory as officials, residents and activists marked the return of the DHC to local hands.

“This is another important milestone on Detroit’s road to recovery,” Castro said. “You can’t keep a good city down.”

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier