New Bern Housing Authority plan
for rehabilitation of the Trent Court Housing Project
12 August 2013
Raynor, Rick Hopkins, Chairman of CCTA, and I attended the New Bern Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Meeting yesterday (11 August). Basically, what we learned was that there are a lot of unanswered questions and concerns about the whole project and that the potential for wasting huge amounts of taxpayers money is obvious.
Whether we believe these types of projects are improper uses of taxpayer money, or whether we believe they are proper, surely we can agree that, if such projects are funded with taxpayer money, it should be carefully spent so that the result lasts a reasonable amount of time, and no waste, fraud, or abuses can easily creep into the implementation process.
This project is nowhere near ready for any of those goals to be secured.
For one thing, Resident Council President, Mrs. Midget’s comments and the non-verbal and softly murmured comments of other residents present made it clear that the residents are very unhappy about the plans for changes to their residences. They do not like the inability to change the size of the units or the exterior of the units under one method of funding, and they do not like the plan to install a Laundromat with sixteen washing machines and only one folding table which they say is non-functional and would become an unsafe place where various kinds of “deals” would be done. They are willing to do without the proposed dishwashers in favor of having a washer and dryer (or washer/dryer hook up) in each unit and larger kitchens. Apparently, the smaller units have miniscule kitchens.
To put it mildly, the residents are displeased with the plans.
Julian Marsh, Executive Director of the Housing Authority, said that the two funding sources, the Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant (of $400,000 for planning approved by HUD in November) and the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program have conflicts that need to be resolved. He seems to have been practicing British understatement. A typical Choice Neighborhood Plan takes 2 years to complete, the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program requires a Physical Conditions Assessment that the architect present said typically involves housing authorities being key players in working closely with the firms doing the assessments, and very little seems to have been done in either area, yet, Mr. Marsh is already aware of conflicts. Does this sound ready for prime time to you?
The architect, A. Wayne Stogner, was present and was asked to make a presentation. Mr. Stogner stated that there were inconsistencies in the cost estimates concerning asbestos and lead based paint abatement, and recommended that Mr. Marsh sit down with the contractor and clear up what the scope of work is to be. Also, the cost estimate of the contractor is puzzling, the cost of rehabilitating one unit is $85,000 and there are 319 units to be rehabilitated that would cost over $27 Million dollars. Stogner has also said that the cost estimates for the project are between $16,651,915 dollars and $17, 354, 904. Incidentally, when I was in engineering school it was considered poor practice to give estimates in such exact terms when the methods used to arrive at the estimates aren’t precise enough to justify accuracy to that extent.
Another huge issue is that the planning phase of the project has not been completed. It was our understanding that not much, if any of the $400,000 planning grant has been used. Why are they pushing ahead with a project when its direction is so unclear. Especially in light of the fact that they do not have the support of the people most affected the residents and the taxpayers.
It is a great mystery to me why the Board of Alderman would even be considering approval of the issuance of $17 Million in revenue bonds to fund this project at this time!
Watchdog Committee Chairman