Morgan City Housing Authority demolishes, renovates units

Mike Porter of Lewis Contractors of Texas works to remove boarding from one of the several vacant homes on Mallard Street at Brownell Homes in Morgan City Tuesday. (Photo by Courtney Darce)

The chairman of the board of commissioners and others say the Morgan City Housing Authority has improved its image and continues to address the concerns of its tenants in the months since interim executive director Clarence Robinson took over.
Victory Ho, board chairman, said the state of the housing authority has improved greatly since Robinson took control of the day-to-day operations. This has been accomplished through the cooperative efforts of the executive director, residents, staff and public officials, he said.
“The board and staff are working very hard in implementing our plan to provide better public housing for the citizens of Morgan City,” Ho said. “We will concentrate our efforts on improving the lives of citizens who live in public housing.”
In the past year, efforts were being made to demolish units economically infeasible to repair and to put other units back online for occupancy. Those efforts have accelerated since Robinson took over on July 31.
Patricia A. Campbell, HUD regional public affairs officer in Fort Worth, Texas, commented in an email.
“When Clarence Robinson took on the job of oversight of the MCHA, the agency had approximately 100 vacant units. Since his arrival, 24 units have been demolished,” Campbell said.
Robinson said 40 vacant units have been brought back online since he came to Morgan City and he expects another 14 to 20 to reopen before the end of the year, including four units at Brownell Homes that are being renovated. The occupied units help the housing authority’s assessment score and it also reduced the length of its waiting list.
The assessment scale weighs heavily the number of unoccupied units. Units needing to be demolished or repaired hindered the occupancy rate at the Morgan City Housing Authority for several years, which contributed significantly to its being labeled a “troubled agency.”
Families that were housed at the Joe Ruffin Housing Development have been relocated from this development, which was plagued with foundation, plumbing and other problems, Campbell said.
Those residents are still in public housing and the housing authority is investigating what can be done with the property at the development, Robinson said. The housing authority is in the initial stages of the lengthy, complicated process of a dispensation application to sell the property, Robinson said.
HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center, called REAC, conducts physical property inspections of properties that are owned or subsidized by HUD to help ensure safe, decent and affordable housing; and to identify fraud, abuse and waste of HUD resources. There are four components to the assessments; physical inspections, financial submissions, management operation certifications and resident satisfaction surveys.
Robinson said the February score of the physical inspection at Joe Ruffin homes was 43 out of 100 but the score in September was 76, which he said is indicative of the type of improvements the housing authority is making.
Robinson has been executive director of the Berwick Housing Authority since 2001 and helped rescue the Berwick agency from its troubles. He was confident that with teamwork the same could be accomplished in Morgan City.
Public housing residents have the power to influence their surrounding and environment if they take pride in their selves and their homes, he said.
A resident council has been formed under Robinson’s prodding to address residents’ concerns and work on solutions. The first official meeting of that council will take place Tuesday, he said.
Campbell said in addition to the resident council, “the residents are taking an active interest in the property and helping with planting flowers and keeping the property clean.”
Mayor Frank Grizzaffi appointed two new board members who he expects will help the board continue moving in the right direction. Morgan City Police Capt. Mark Griffin Jr. was appointed at the conclusion of Jackie Watson’s four-year term and Charles Pye was appointed as the resident board member after Shelia Bennett resigned, Grizzaffi said.
“We want people that will be the most advantageous and that can lead the housing authority in the direction we want it, for it to be successfully operated, clean and something we can be proud of,” Grizzaffi said.
Police Chief Travis Crouch said his department and the housing authority under Robinson’s direction have developed an excellent relationship working together in keeping residents secure. Griffin will continue to serve as the liaison between the authority and its residents and the police force.
The housing authority is preparing for its annual inspection by HUD.
“The agency may not see improvement in all assessment areas due the late start in addressing issues that have plagued the agency for years, however improvement is expected,” Campbell said. “There still remain many issues before the housing authority; however, HUD is pleased to see that the housing authority is moving in the right direction.”
Robinson continues to serve as director at both Berwick and Morgan City housing authorities.

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