Indianapolis Housing Authority chief stepped out

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INDIANAPOLIS – The man Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett hired for three years to fix the city’s ailing public housing agency is out.

Indianapolis Housing Agency executive director John Hall resigned Friday, two months before his contract ended, as head of the $ 80 million-a-year municipal agency responsible for responding to social housing needs of approximately 24,000 people in Marion County; and partnering on alternative housing options for the homeless.

“I want to thank John for his leadership of the IHA during a particularly critical time,” read a statement issued by the mayor who congratulated Hall on his performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five days before cleaning his office, Hall was listed as “Enterprise’s target victim (a criminal); subjected to continued harm, fear, threat and / or intimidation to prevent him from legally discharging his duties as a public official, in particular by protecting federal funds against other risks of waste, of fraud and abuse, ”according to a whistleblower complaint sent to the Office of Inspector General at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and obtained by Fox 59 News.

“I haven’t read a two-thousand-page complaint,” said Hall, who is not the author of the report. “I see some of the things that are alleged. I lived it.

The complaint details an alleged network of insider trading, conflict of interest and fraud in the purchase, sale and development of generally distressed properties in Indianapolis, allegedly in pursuit of the goal of providing affordable housing to low-income residents, but often to the benefit of well-connected industry insiders, public employees, elected officials, developers and lenders.

The mayor’s office told Fox 59 News it was aware of the whistleblower’s complaint last week.

Much of the complaint traces the history of these financial transactions since the FBI raids on Indianapolis Land Bank in 2013 that resulted in the arrest of several employees of the municipal agency responsible for disposing of surplus real estate. in distress.

The Indianapolis Land Bank was dissolved and replaced by Renew Indianapolis which fulfills the same function.

The complaint documents sales of real estate to buyers who either failed to make significant improvements to properties in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods or referred the purchases to public or private buyers for more profit.

“I think you have a lot of documentation on some of the things that I encountered that were out of the norm in my first three months here,” Hall said. “If there was some sort of strategic assault on me, I wouldn’t be surprised, but I stayed focused on the job at hand.”

Hall said he was shunned by agency employees, stakeholders, IHA board members, nonprofits, lenders and developers during his attempts to straighten out the agency.

“I was excited about the opportunity to come and clean up and reform an agency,” he said, recalling that his first weeks on the job included a failed HUD inspection, over 100 audit findings and programming deficiency; and a subpoena from the State Board of Accounts for failure to file annual financial statements.

“The first month was a huge wake-up call and I think we found out later that we had a lot of vacant units that weren’t reported and that the relationship with our tax credit investors was not the best. best and the participants in our program weren’t receiving the benefits of the reasons the programs were designed to help them.

In less than three years, Hall said he had improved financial controls and contracts, increased revenues, increased occupancy rates and improved maintenance and security of assets, while reducing staff and stepping up employee training. remaining.

“One of the comments I got from the management of the HUD program is, ‘How do we find out everything that’s wrong with the agency and nothing comes back on your audits? ” “, did he declare. “IHA is certainly in a better position today than it was 34-36 months ago.

“It was really about showing progress, removing the list of things that were on that stimulus package and I think that’s what they were hungry for, they actually wanted to see the IHA move forward. and I think that’s what we accomplished. “

Hall said he has certainly encountered headwinds in his efforts to reform the agency.

“Oh absolutely. Changing direction is planned, ”he said. “Most people who want change, they want results, but getting to real change, all of that in between, it can be a bumpy road.”

Eight months after taking office in the summer of 2019, Hall received a vote of confidence from Mayor Hogsett.

“Well he’s a reformer and I’m sure the decisions he makes change things at IHA and human nature being what it is he maybe hired people who are trying to push back, “Hogsett told Fox 59 News in August. 8, 2019. “John has been brought in to right every wrong that has arisen, whether it’s at the IHA or he’s involved with an IHA affiliate. It is John’s primary responsibility to reform and change.

“As there are people out there who don’t support John’s reform, that needs to change as the agency is an important agency for the city and John has been asked to reform it.”

Hall said one of his toughest challenges was ruling Insight Development Corporation, IHA’s real estate development arm.

“During my time as an executive director, the Insight Development Corporation, in my opinion, the entity was on a path away from the core mission of the IHA and sort of doing its own thing. own thing in my opinion, therefore, I know that this entity had a lot of community partners.

Hall said he was baffled by Insight’s payment of $ 116,000 to purchase a decrepit auto repair garage in West 30e Street and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard which began the year before he arrived and has not yet seen any residential or commercial development in the northwest side community.

“I know the Mustang Ranch,” Hall said. “I was touched by that, I think, in 2019, and I really tried to say, ‘How did that happen? In the Northwest Quality of Living Initiative, so I’m aware of that, but I’m not quite familiar with that over the past three years, especially last year, l ‘Northwest Quality of Life Initiative, members actually asked me to withdraw from membership because I disagreed with some of the deals they were going to do.

Although Hall praised some Insight projects, such as the “Rock n ‘Riverside” development on the northwest side, as an attempt to stop the gentrification of distressed neighborhoods while providing housing for income buyers. moderate, the whistleblower’s complaint details the economic failures of this specific program. such as selling properties at a loss to Insight after the renovation costs are factored in.

The complaint also details large, low-quality land holdings owned by city councilors and IHA board members in distressed neighborhoods that have not been improved.

“I’m not aware of any conflicts of interest or ethics violations,” Hogsett said in 2019, “but if they do exist, I’m sure they will be discovered and we will take appropriate action. This administration … has tried to be so open and transparent in our dealings and that applies to the IHA.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer Marcia Lewis has been appointed Interim Executive Director of the IHA.

It’s unclear whether the mayor will conduct a nationwide search, like the one that landed in Hall, to find an outsider to continue the reform momentum of the past three years.

“There will be policies or external factors that could prevent the IHA from becoming the best agency it can be,” Hall said. “I think the next step for the agency is to support the work that has been done. Everything is not cleaned up. I won’t tell you. I think this is the perfect relay race to hand over the baton and say, “Now that we have a lot of fires brewing, we have a good relationship with our tax credit investors, now is the time for someone to do it. one comes with a fresh and renewed mind and can run the agency for the next three to four years. ‘”

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