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Housing board controversy to be aired during public hearing

March 07, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — At a special meeting here Tuesday, the City Council voted to set a public hearing before making a decision on removing some or all of the six Calexico Housing Authority board members.

The public hearing has been set for the next regular City Council meeting on March 20.

Members of the Housing Authority board have been criticized by residents of Casas del Sol and members of the authority board itself for failing to sell residents the homes they now rent.

All Housing Authority board members will be required to attend the March 20 meeting and, because due process will have been given, the council could elect to remove individuals or the entire board, according to the process described by City Attorney Michael Rood. Authority members are appointed to their position by the council.

Calexico Mayor Javier Alatorre was the lone dissenting vote in a 4-1 decision to set the public hearing.


"I stand by my statement that there has been no proof of negligence by members of the board," said Alatorre.

Instead of a hearing, Alatorre called for an independent audit of the Housing Authority to determine if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Housing Authority is at fault over delays with the authority's 5H program.

HUD is the federal agency that must approve any sale of authority homes to residents.

Housing Authority Executive Director Lupita Rios said last week the first sale of a Casas del Sol home through the 5H program could occur by mid-summer.

The 5H program was developed by HUD in the early 1990s under a different name as a way for low-income families renting homes with federal assistance to eventually purchase the homes if they were eligible.

Jesus "Chuy" Solano, a Housing Authority board commissioner, said eight years is far too long to wait. He called on the City Council to remove the board, including himself, and take control of the Housing Authority.

Solano told the council that Rios and the board made mistakes in the application process and tried to secure a transfer of funding and Section 8 vouchers to another project even though they were told it was not allowed by HUD.

Residents of the city's low-income housing projects, including Casas del Sol, also voiced their complaints about the way in which the program has been handled and said the board has repeatedly ignored residents' complaints.

Councilman Victor Carrillo said he concurs with the residents' complaints and that they need to be addressed.

Housing Authority resident Maria Gasca showed the council documentation showing more than 20 letters that went unanswered by the board and its director.

Ema Silva, secretary of the Calexico Resident Council, expressed disgust with the way residents were treated by the board.

Housing Authority board Chairman John Romo said, "It's not that we are ignoring them. I took it upon myself to set up a grievance panel and no one showed up."

He added, "They can call me, they can submit an agenda item or they can make an appeal to HUD. I've given them options and tried to assist them."

Romo acknowledged he would feel frustrated if he were in the residents' position, but he asked the council for understanding of the processes the board deals with.

"You want to fire me? You want to fire me to get to the director?" said Romo. "At least give us the opportunity to present the facts."

Housing Authority commissioner Gloria Rodriguez said she has been tainted by the accusations leveled at the board and added the City Council has not done enough to determine the validity of the charges.

"I thought that for sure you (the council) would be calling us," said Rodriguez, "but no one has asked us, ‘Is it true?' … ‘Are you crooks?' "

She said the board works well as a committee and the 5H program is now in motion and will be a reality.

"What is working well?" asked Solano.

He told the council that for the past two years he has heard how difficult the regulations and the process have been for the board. He said they knew exactly how to get the 5H program approved but did not act on the residents' behalf but on the behalf of special interests.

"That's what the community needs — someone to represent the residents," said Housing Authority resident Irene Mora.

Councilman John Renison said he hopes the hearing will bring closure to the issue.

"We've been doing this rain dance for months. We've got to get on with our lives," said Renison.

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