Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HUD Seeks to Ease Tensions Within the ROCC

HUD: "afraid a split would result in more constraints."*

HUD called last week.  Seems "someone" tipped them off there was serious talk about reforming a local CoC.

HUD's stated purpose in calling was to provide information so that any decision would be made with "eyes wide open" as to "what is best for the local area."

However, their actual purpose was more likely to elicit information, because they didn't actually provide any information themselves.

There were seven people from HUD on the call, and at least seven people from Marion and Polk Counties, including Commissioners Wheeler and Carlson, Salem Housing Authority Administrator Andy Wilch, MWVCAA's Jon Reeves and Jimmy Jones, Shangri-La's Robin Winkle, and SIHN's TJ Putman.  Of course, Jo Zimmer, ROCC's part-time staff, was also on the call.  Not everyone identified themselves.     
  
Referring to yours truly as "the parties that are floating the idea", and "the parties most interested", HUD shared our response to a set of questions they'd emailed us a few hours earlier.  They said technical assistance could be offered to help overcome the problems identified, and asked what other reasons people had for considering a split.  Jimmy spoke about a need-resource allocation imbalance.  Andy said it was somewhat of a political issue, but existing resources were not sufficient and SHA wanted an arrangement that would best serve the local area.  TJ talked about not being able to get Tier 2 funding and said the ROCC was not a "fair playing field."  HUD specifically asked to hear from the State about the situation, but no one from OHCS had called in, apparently. 

Our reasons were summed up as being "a little more on the autonomy side", and the others as "a desire to see more funding."  HUD said they discourage splits because communities don't benefit as much as they expect to.  They said this was mostly due to unrealistic expectations about their ability to perform (compete).  Acknowledging that Salem-Marion-Polk was "not exactly small",  funds were nonetheless, "limited."  How limited?  "We have to think through exactly how the money will be divided", they said, and suggested that Polk, for instance, might decide not to split off.

Photo courtesy The Task Mistress
At that, Andy commented that the population being discussed was around 450,000, that we don't get our pro-rata share of resources, and "the areas are integrated on this issue."  Jon Reeves then echoed TJ's comments, and talked about not having to compete with so many other projects were we a separate CoC.  HUD emphasized that "pro rata need" was not a guarantee of funding, although it is a factor in the planning and bonus grants, and then said HUD was "afraid a split would result in more constraints" (whatever that means).  HUD obviously has no clue how constraining it is to try and collaborate across 28 counties through an organization that won't even follow its own bylaws.

The call wound up with HUD re-extending the offer of TA, which "usually goes through the CoC", at which point several on the ROCC board said they thought it would be helpful.  (No one else did, though.)  Commissioner Carlson asked that "the jurisdictions" be included in future discussions.  Jo Zimmer asked whether ROCC gets to vote on the split, and was told there would be "a voice on all sides", "heavy engagement", that it "takes time" to ensure "equal distribution" of resources.  It being 5p Eastern Time on the nose, HUD then hung up.

Was the call a waste of time?  Depends on its purpose.  If its purpose was to elicit information, probably so, because everyone was definitely holding back.  If its purpose was to chill enthusiasm for a split, it may have had some effect.  Especially on those focused exclusively on the resource aspect.  But, chilling is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can, for instance, help manage expectations.

A recent baseline assessment of the Salem, Marion and Polk CoC (see here) shows how much work there is to do before we are in a position to compete effectively for HUD funding.  This is work that should have been done before, but was not, due in large part, we believe, to the the lack of accountability and transparency in ROCC's and MWVCAA's structure and governance, and the inability to extract county-level data off the HUD data exchange.  
             
The May ROCC Mtg

The subject, "Geographical Split - reforming previous CoC in Marion-Polk counties", was on the agenda of the ROCC board's May 24th meeting. There were about 25 participants on that call, including Todd Adkins (HUD PDX) and (briefly) Jimmy Jones (MWVCAA), who don't usually attend.  

As she droned on about the 2017 competition, Zimmer admitted that "when that NOFA drops, it's frenzy, frankly."  We hope Adkins heard that.  It would not be "a frenzy" in a local CoC.  

There was a brief discussion of system performance measures, with the obligatory begging for projects to clean up their data.  Jimmy's told us that Marion and Polk have very clean data.  Assuming that's true (we can't know, because MWVCAA's not made those reports available, and county-level data can't be extracted from the ROCC data that's on the HUD Data Exchange), we don't especially benefit from it, because local metrics are diluted by those of the other 26 counties.

Ten minutes into the second hour of the meeting, Zimmer got to the "Geographical Split - reforming previous CoC in Marion-Polk counties" agenda item, saying somewhat ominously, "awareness needs to be put out over the CoC just as a matter of process", and "I've not been directly involved in those conversations."

This was a lie, of course, our having corresponded with her about it last December, and discussed the matter at length on December 28th, when she finally admitted that she'd "tried to take a position" (on the reforming idea), but "couldn't, because I can see it both ways."  The fact is, she's known these talks were taking place since last August, when she declined to talk about a possible split on the record with a MWHI Task Force committee.  Nothing prevented her from reaching out, if she wanted to work the problem, but, she didn't.  Instead, she persuaded the board to have a big fat secret meeting, for no particular reason
      

Zimmer informed the board that "a conversation was had with HUD" last week to answer "the myriad questions that arise" when a local CoC seeks to go it alone.  She reported that HUD had warned that "doing so would be a complex and drawn out process" (uhm, not exactly) and that HUD had agreed to provide "TA to help work through this potential split conversation and to work with [ROCC] on strategic planning."  She said "if there is forward movement" and "paperwork and all that moves forward", then HUD would provide an opportunity to have "voices heard."

"I hate to be grey about all of that", she said in closing. 

At that point, Todd Adkins chimed in for HUD, saying he was happy to answer any questions, and that his office would be putting a request for "TA" up the chain, and everyone would have an opportunity to review the scope of work being requested.  He said the view from headquarters was that the talk of splitting was "a manifestation of the stresses and difficulties that balance of state CoCs are experiencing across the country", and that TA could help ease the situation.  There weren't any questions, and the meeting adjourned early, about ten minutes later.  ROCC's annual meeting will take place June 28-29 at the Salem Convention Center.     
          
*Photo courtesy ThinkRite.com"  

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