Housing director is hired

CHAMPAIGN – The former head of the Gary, Ind., Housing Authority has been hired as the executive director of the Housing Authority of Champaign County.

Edward Bland Jr., 59, currently a resident of Cincinnati, was hired as executive director of the housing authority this week. Board members approved a three-year contract with Bland that will initially pay him $83,000 per year.

Bland's first day on the job will be Nov. 10.

"I felt I had a very good interview with the board," said Bland on Friday. "I felt comfortable with the board. I had a chance to see the housing units. I like what I see. There's a lot of potential and I think we'll be able to move forward in the way the board wants and to go and make a positive impact in the community."

Bland replaces Elawrence Davis as executive director. Davis resigned in February after being notified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that he had been suspended from his job and was being proposed for a three-year debarment, which would prevent him from working for any housing authority.

The actions stemmed from the fact that Davis pleaded guilty in September 2002 in Champaign County Circuit Court to the felony charge of obstructing justice and was sentenced to two years of conditional discharge. Davis admitted to lying to Champaign police when he told them he owned a shotgun but did not mention he owned a .38-caliber handgun when police went to his house to question him about allegations that he had threatened a couple with a handgun.

Housing board Chairman Clyde Walker said Bland's extensive background as an executive director of housing authorities was one of the factors that led to his hiring.

Bland was head of the Gary, Ind., Housing Authority from July 1999 to February 2003, where he was responsible for 2,256 public housing units and 1,408 Section 8 vouchers.

He has been working as a consultant since February.

Bland was executive director of Housing Authority of New Haven, Conn., from January 1998 to July 1999, where he oversaw roughly 5,000 units of public housing and Section 8 vouchers, according to his resume.

He worked as director of housing operations from July 1990 to December 1997 for the Alexandria, Va., Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and from 1971 to 1989 for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, where he worked at one point as a management operation supervisor responsible for the day-to-day operation of over 6,000 public housing units with a resident population of over 15,000 people.

Bland said he believes it's important not only to provide quality housing, but also to ensure that public housing residents and Section 8 voucher recipients are good citizens.

Walker said Bland was one of four finalists. He said three of the four candidates, including Bland, were "really good" and would have been acceptable hires.

"But Mr. Bland did kind of stand out from the rest," he said.

Walker said he liked how Bland related that he keeps in frequent touch with maintenance employees. Those employees are the eyes and ears of the housing authority because "They're out there every day," Bland said.

Bland said he also believes in visiting with housing authority residents Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays after church hours to keep in touch.

"I still have a lot of energy," Bland said. "I really love what I do."

Among the challenges Bland will face are the redevelopment of the 67-unit Burch Village and 99-unit Lakeside Terrace, family housing developments, into mixed-income developments.

Housing board member Patricia Stebbins, who called Bland a "truly excellent" choice, said the new executive director will face other challenges.

To help the new director get off to a fast start, the housing board hired an outside firm this summer to conduct an independent assessment of the housing authority.

"It looked at different operations and made suggestions where improvement would be most beneficial," said Stebbins.

Other pressing issues include a high vacancy rate at the authority's high-rise developments, which generally are geared to senior citizens and the disabled, and how to deal in general with declining federal dollars.

The housing authority has a capital budget of about $1 million and an operating budget, including Section 8 rental vouchers, of about $2 million, she said.

The Housing Authority of Champaign County has 603 housing units, including Burch Village; Lakeside Terrace; the 26-unit Dunbar Court, for families, at 1208 N. Wright St., U; the 16-unit Columbia Place, for the elderly, at 503 E. Columbia Ave., C; 16 scattered-site, five bedroom single family homes; Skelton Place, for the elderly and disabled, 302 S. Second St., C; Youman Place, a 20-unit elderly only development in Rantoul; Washington Square, with 104 units for the elderly and disabled, 108 W. Washington St., C; and Oscar Steer Place, with 104 units for the elderly and disabled, 1201 E. Harding Drive, U.

Grant sought for razing Burch Village

CHAMPAIGN – Local housing authority officials will get another chance to apply for a nearly $1 million grant needed to demolish the half-century-old Burch Village and relocate the 57 families who live there.

Housing Authority of Champaign County officials were notified this week that a new round of Hope VI funding is available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The lack of demolition and relocation funding is the biggest gap, at the moment, in housing authority and city of Champaign plans to redevelop the 67-unit Burch Village into a 50-unit mixed-income development.

Housing authority officials were notified a few months ago that their last Hope VI grant application, for $934,000, had been rejected, primarily due to a lack of funding compared to the number of applications.

For this new round, grant applications will be accepted between Jan. 5 and Feb. 18, and grants will be awarded a few months later, said Matt Hogan, a special projects coordinator for the housing authority.

The housing authority has already obtained permission from HUD to demolish the family complex at the northeast corner of Bradley Avenue and Fourth Street, and the housing authority has been awarded Section 8 vouchers to provide alternative rental housing for Burch Village residents.

But money to demolish the complex and pay for the relocation of residents is still needed to move forward.

Another step necessary in redeveloping Burch Village will be considered by the Champaign City Council when it meets in study session at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The council is being asked to direct staff to prepare a city letter of support indicating that the Burch Village redevelopment project "exceeds expectations." The letter will help Brinshore Development LLC of Northbrook, the developer of the Burch Village project, and Douglass Park Limited Partnership, the owner applicant, in its quest to obtain $4.6 million in cash for the project through the sale of low-income housing tax credits.

The tax credits would be awarded by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, which uses tax credits to promote affordable housing developments. Individual investors and corporations pay money to buy the tax credits, which they can use to reduce their income tax bill.

The overall project is estimated to cost $6.9 million, of which the city of Champaign is contributing $400,000 in federal HOME funds.

The new mixed-income development would have five market-rate apartment, 30 units for people making 40 to 60 percent of the median family income and 13 to 15 units for extremely low income families.

If the project is awarded a Hope VI grant and the tax credits, demolition and relocation of residents could begin by next summer, according to Kerri Forsyth, a community development specialist with the city of Champaign.

You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or via e-mail at mmonson@news-gazette.com.

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