North Adams Housing Program's Transfer to City Tabled

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The expected vote to dissolve Housing Opportunities Inc. was tabled by Chairman Christopher Tremblay over lingering questions he has.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The long-planned transfer of Housing Opportunities Inc. to the city was abruptly tabled by Chairman Christopher Tremblay on Monday because of lingering questions.

"I have questions related to this whole process that I would like answered before we move forward," he said.

HOI was established in 1988 to promote safe and affordable housing in the city; its board of directors is made up of sitting Housing Authority board members and its non-voting CEO is the authority's executive director.

The Housing Authority has been trying to dissolve the corporation for at least three years and transfer the assets to the city of North Adams, its designated successor, at the behest of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"There's a lot of questions," Tremblay said, adding he thought the authority was being pressured and wanted to see HUD's request in writing. "What's going to happen to the properties already mortgaged under this program, where do those go? Where's the money, where's it going?"

He said he wanted a clean process, and not to be "used as a conduit to clean up someone else's problems."

Executive Director Jennifer Hohn said those questions had been answered over the past three years, and that Tremblay was "creating an illusion of wrongdoing."

"We've been talking about dissolving this corporation for three years now and I just don't understand what's changed all of a sudden," she said, adding HUD had noted it as conflict for the authority in its annual reviews. "It's a monkey on my back."

In the somewhat heated exchange, Tremblay responded that he resented that his questions were construed as insinuation of wrongdoing.  

But one issue, he said, was the recent vote to rescind a sale of property that he claimed was at the "directive of the mayor."

The North Adams Ambulance Service had been interested in the vacant lot next to it on River Street owned by HOI. The service broached a proposal to purchase it in 2014; the board voted in February to accept $12,000 for the lot, which was assessed at $36,000. However, an abuttor, who had previously been fine with the sale, and his close relative contacted the board and the mayor's office in June indicating "a willingness to take legal action to protect his property," according to the authority's attorney, Stephen F. Narey.

Hohn said the concern over legalities was the fact that the board had approved selling the lot for less than assessed value while the abuttors were willing to pay more. The board had acted on its attorney's advice, she said. Tremblay noted the board had sold land for less than its value before, and to city employees, but Hohn said in those cases, there had been no other interested parties.

"You saw the attorney's decision," she said. "I personally don't care who gets this land, I just don't want to get in legal trouble."

The board had rescinded its vote in June, prompting an accusation by North Adams Ambulance that board member Matt Neville, who voted to rescind, has a conflict of interest because of his position as facilities manager for the North Adams School System. Narey's opinion was that there was no possible conflict in Neville voting.

Narey did point out that selling the land below appraised value and the need for HOI to get its own attorney to determine it was permitted, as well as the potential litigation, "could lead to substantial delays and costs to HOI."

Tremblay intimated that rescinding the vote could also cause legal issues.

Mayor Richard Alcombright on Monday night confirmed that the abuttor and his family member had contacted his office. He said he had suggested to the Housing Authority that once the city had possession of the property, the interested buyers could bid for it according to state law; if the top bid was less than assessed, then it would have to go to City Council for approval before being sold.

Board member Ben Taylor asked if they could request the attorneys to attend the next meeting to explain it "for one last time."

"It's continual. It's like Sisyphus over here," he said. "We keep pushing up the mountain. Pushing, pushing, pushing."

Tremblay agreed, saying he wanted the mayor, the city solicitor, the community development officer and the Housing Authority's attorney to attend the next meeting. He tabled action on HOI as his prerogative as chairman and took no questions.

Tags: Housing Authority,   Housing program,   land sales,   

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