East St. Louis -- Talks are under way between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the St. Clair County Housing Authority to transfer receivership of the East St. Louis Housing Authority to St. Clair County.
David Wagner, executive director of the St. Clair County Housing Authority confirmed for a reporter Tuesday that he had talked with HUD officials about a transfer. He said the St. Clair Housing Authority did not initiate the contact.
Wagner said he was told by HUD officials in Chicago that the Chicago office of HUD, which had been overseeing the East St. Louis Housing Authority, no longer wanted it.
Laura J. Feldman, from HUD's public affairs department, released a statement from that said, HUD "has begun discussions with the St. Clair County Housing Authority to transfer all operations of the city of East St. Louis to the county agency."
"HUD has also briefed Mayor Alvin Parks on the proposed course of action. The discussions with St. Clair County were initiated by HUD and will continue over the next few months. HUD believes that moving operations to the county authority will ensure that the public housing program and the Housing Choice Voucher program (section 8) will continue to be operated to the best interest of current and future residents," the statement said.
Asked for the reason for the transfer and why East St. Louis is not being allowed to control its own housing authority, the statement said, HUD "has been in control of the housing authority for 25 years. That's the reason it has been performing well and has clean audits."
Edna Mayes, a chairman over the advisory board at Orr Weathers Housing complex is upset about the transfer. She feels HUD officials should have notified residents of their plans long before now.
She and several other residents and Oliver Hamilton, a sitting St. Clair County Board, member participated in a meeting with two HUD officials, John Fingers, a HUD representative, and Steve Meiss, director of the Illinois Office of Public Housing, at the Orr Weathers building Thursday morning. They made it abundantly clear that whey were upset and felt jilted at not being told early on that discussions were under way to transfer the city's housing authority to St. Clair County.
Mayes, clearly upset, said she was not from St. Clair County and wanted to have the housing authority remain in East St. Louis.
She told the officials that many seniors do not have transportation and some are in wheelchairs, and if they are forced to go to Belleville it will be a hardship on them. Mayes told Fingers he didn't live in public housing.
"I do. You go home. We should have known what was going on. You all have known for a year. It wasn't in the newspaper or on television," she said. Mayes said HUD's secret meetings were unfair to the residents of public housing.
"We should have known that HUD wanted St. Clair County to take over. You did not publicize it. You did not give us a chance to say what we wanted. You've been having all of these secret meetings. We went to a meeting last Friday at City Hall, and we weren't suppose to be there.
HUD officials said the meeting was not intended for residents.
The News-Democrat has learned that some of those at the meeting were Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr., Roy Mosley Sr., president pro tem of the East St. Louis City Council, Roy Mosley Jr., director of East St. Louis Public works, and Edith Moore, a member of the housing authority board.
Mayes told Fingers that their representative, Antonio Riley, who was at the meeting, told them HUD talked to St. Clair County and St. Clair County didn't want East St. Louis. But, Riley said HUD officials were going back to talk to St. Clair County.
"I told them we live in East St. Louis and we should have been notified and the newspaper too," Mayes said.
Meiss, who said he was at the meeting, which was at City Hall in the mayor's office, denied that their representative said St. Clair County didn't want East St. Louis. Meiss said it was understandable that St. Clair County officials might be a little leery because of the things that would be said about their taking over the receivership if it happened.
"We don't want St. Clair County. It'll make a hardship on us. We don't have a way to get around. How are we suppose to get to St. Clair County. And, we will have to change over to St. Clair County. We will have to be represented as St. Clair County. East St. Louis is our home. We need our home -- our own housing authority under East St. Louis' control. We will also lose a lot of jobs here. We don't need that," Mayes told HUD officials. She called the move an injustice to the people in East St. Louis who live in public housing.
Fingers told the people that HUD was only in the very beginning stages of a discussion with St. Clair County.
Fingers said East St. Louis controlling the East St. Louis Housing Authority is not an option because they do not have the capacity. He reminded the residents that their housing authority was taken over by HUD because of the many problems that East St. Louis had running it. And HUD has had it in its care for more than 25 years. He said the decision to discuss the transfer came from higher up (Sandra Henriquez), the assistant secretary of public housing.
Now, he said it's HUD's intention to move it from receivership to local control.
Henriquez could not be reached for comment.
He insisted that nothing more than discussions have taken place. "It's not a done deal," Fingers said. "No decisions will be made without Elizabeth (Tolliver) executive director of the East St. Louis Housing Authority and maybe Edith (Moore), a board member," being there, Fingers told the residents
Fingers told residents that HUD is afraid that if the housing authority is returned to local control in East St. Louis there is a possibility that it would revert to the things that happened to cause HUD to take it into receivership.
Meiss, whose office is in Chicago, told residents that when HUD took over things were a total mess. He said in the time that HUD has had it things have been terrific. The reason for the discussions going forward regarding a transition to local control Meiss said was because the federal government believes it should not be running a local housing authority.
He told the people they were residents of St. Clair County and were represented there by Hamilton.
Fingers said St. Clair County was as close as HUD could get without going through the city.
Cenola Miller, a member of the tenant advisory board, told both men that they should sit down with Parks and try to work things out because he was one man and shouldn't be blamed for everything that happened that put the housing authority in receivership.
"Do they (HUD) think African-Americans are so dumb they don't know what to do? HUD's getting the money. They make the rules," she said. Miller and the other residents present said the only person at the table they trusted was Tolliver.
Tolliver assured them she would keep them posted about everything she learned from HUD.
Meiss said HUD has never done what they are in discussions to do before. "We are just talking," he told them.
Fingers encouraged the residents to talk to others and dispel rumors that were out there. He told them that he wanted their ideas and participation going forward, but whether they participated or not, the discussions were going forward.
He said the transition, if it happens, would be legal.
"Under state law, locally appointed members appoints members of the board. We don't feel the capacity is there to make the proper appointments to govern the housing authority. If the wrong people are appointed, they would have authority over executive housing authority. If the wrong people are appointed they could turn things around.
Miller said Parks should be allowed to sit down with them and get things worked out so that the Housing Authority could remain in East St. Louis.
Parks admits "the city has had some issues, but by and large, day in and day out we have honest, good government in the city school district, township, the park district, Board of Elections. When someone makes the statement that East St. Louis doesn't have the capacity -- what are they basing that on, the assessment of someone who has only been to East St. Louis three times?" Parks asked.
Parks said he respects HUD's feelings, "but I vehemently disagree with their assessment of East St. Louis."
Parks said city government wouldn't be infused in the East St. Louis' Housing Authority. "They would be their own separate body," he said.