May 10 2018 10:03 AM

Greater Lansing Housing Coalition is going out of business


A local housing assistance program is closing its doors and liquidating its assets after 29 years of operation.

“It is with great sadness that the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition (GLHC) announces it will close its doors very soon,” the organization said.

Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, who chairs the Ingham County Land Bank, said that the state and federal government have slowly been divesting from groups like GLHC and that without a strong board and executive director driven fundraising system, many are shutting down throughout the state.

“This is a problem that has been years in the making,” he said.

The program has offered housing services to seniors, the homeless, people suffering from mental illness, and victims of domestic abuse. It’s also run credit counseling programs as well as Do-It-Yourself housing education programming and a popular program called Tuesday Toolmen which assisted those with disabilities in building accessible ramps for homes.

GLHC Board Chairwoman Diane Sanborn said she could not answer follow-up questions yet on the closure and liquidation.

“The statement I sent you is all I can share at this time as there are many cogs in the GLHC wheel yet to be determined,” she wrote in an email response. “We are hard at work making sure our missions carry on after us and we can go out with our heads held high. We are proud of the community work we have accomplished.”

Indeed, the many cogs include transferring properties with complicated financial strings attached. Some of them were built or remodeled using housing development dollars controlled by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which will likely be involved in reviewing and approving the sale or transfer of any properties.

The press release said the organization hopes to cease all operations by September. The nonprofit, according to the 2015 federal 990 filing with the IRS, had total assets of $2,346,164 with a total liability of $1,205,433.

It operates and owns several properties in the county, including the senior housing complex in Mason called the Jefferson, Ferris Manor at Pine and Saginaw streets and a permanent supportive housing unit on Walnut Street for adults with serious mental health issues. It also owns and operates the Neighborhood Empowerment Center, 600 W. Maple St., on the campus of the old School for the Blind.

The Neighborhood Empowerment Center is one of the key locations. It serves as a hub of activity with other groups renting there, as well as a location of a Head Start Program. Brian McGrain, director of Economic Development and Planning at the city, said Lansing is working with the agency as it works through the dissolution. The city, McGrain said, has been a “primary funder” of the location.

“We’re committed to helping it find a home,” he said Monday in an interview. “We’re committed to it staying open. We’re committed to it being an actual neighborhood resource. We’ve invested a lot of resources into a part of town that needs resources.”

Schertzing is on the board of one of those nonprofits that is interested in the NEC building. He is a board member of the Capital Area Community Services. He said the organization has a primary interest because of the Head Start programming it runs at the building.

“We are certainly discussing that,” he said. One of the stumbling blocks that GLHC will run into, Schertzing said, will be the valuation of its properties. He said it’s difficult to determine the property values on some of these assets because they are not being charged a traditional property tax rate. Rather they are subject to a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT.

“Once that’s approved, no one is evaluating the value of the properties like they would otherwise,” Schertzing said. “I have no idea if they had an internal audit process that did have those values or not.”

There are also two empty lots owned by the organization as well. One at 1114 W. Kalamazoo St. and the other at Chestnut and Madison streets. Both are being represented for sale by Sanborn. She’s a Realtor, as well as serving as the chair of the GLHC Board.

“It’s unseemly,” said Schertzing of the arrangement. “Nonprofit boards should avoid that kind of entanglement, that while possibly legal, just don’t look good.”

Sanborn, in response to an email Tuesday, said she would donate all commissions back to GLHC, something she has done all along when she was the broker for the organization’s properties. She also said she recused herself from the board votes related to her handling the sale of the properties.

The organization has also rehabilitated numerous properties throughout the city and then helped first time home owners purchase them.

Kirbay Preuss, one of those new home buyers in 2016, is calling the closure a loss for the community.

She said the GLHC helped her to better understand managing her own finances as well as what being a homeowner entails.

“Many people my age rush into more than they can handle,” she said. “They provided a young naive first time buyer with an education on home ownership that I wouldn’t have been required to take with a non-GL- HC home sale.”