East St. Louis fights for housing authority

News-DemocratNovember 4, 2013 


— The East St. Louis Housing Authority Board of Commissioners has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the transfer of the city's housing authority to St. Clair County.

The Housing Authority filed the suit against the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The board believes that HUD is violating an agreement with the city that was put in place several years ago. It also is violating state law that does not allow a government entity to operate two independent housing authorities.

The suit was filed in September by City Attorney Michael Wagner. It alleges that by attempting to transfer the ownership and operation of projects held in receivership to the St. Clair County Housing Authority, HUD is breaching its contract with the city housing authority for several reasons:

* The St. Clair County Housing Authority is not a recognized successor to the East St. Louis Housing Authority.

* HUD has not made a determination that the city Housing Authority is in substantial default of the revised agreement.

* HUD has failed to provide notice to the city of a determination that the default declared under the prior agreement is continuing.

* HUD's obligation to make annual contributions to the city housing authority available has not been terminated.

* The city is being deprived of its rights under the agreement that was signed between itself and HUD on Dec. 11, 1995.

HUD spokeswoman Laura J. Feldman said the agency is aware of the lawsuit but no one can comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit says that HUD is seeking to use the "notice of default" that was issued nearly 30 years ago as its basis for transferring control of the assets of the city housing authority to the county.

East Louis officials, according to the lawsuit, say that at a minimum the city should be provided with another notice from HUD that explains any matters that HUD believes continue to be in default and give the city an opportunity to respond.

In its suit, the city is asking a judge to order HUD to cease and desist all attempts to transfer control of the city housing authority to St. Clair County.

"Applicable Illinois law does not permit a county housing authority to operate within the area of operation of a city housing authority whose geographical boundaries are included in the county," the suit states.

The lawsuit says that HUD has not selected St. Clair Housing Authority through competitive procurement to manage the local housing authority, and the law according to city leaders, says the transfer can only happen through competitive procurement. The law also says housing authority residents must be consulted, the suit says.

For a number of years, residents have been volunteering and sitting on the housing board with the acceptance of HUD and no one was given advance warning that the transfer was coming, some of the residents said.

HUD said East St. Louis' is the only housing authority that is still in its control and that it is time to get it out from under HUD's control and return it to local control.

HUD officials said in their visit here in recent months that leaving control of the local housing authority in East St. Louis to the city was not an option.

Meanwhile, the process of transferring control to the county has already begun. Dave Wagner, executive director of the St. Clair Housing Authority, said 600 Section 8 vouchers already have been transferred to St. Clair County that previously would have gone to the city.

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