Aug. 16 2018 10:22 AM

City to select third-party contractor for ‘aggressive’ improvement schedule


Recently released rental inspections detail a bevy of code violations within units managed by the Lansing Housing Commission, but city officials remain committed to an “aggressive” schedule to get them fixed.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor released the results Tuesday of inspections from LHC apartments at LaRoy Froh and the South Washington Complex. The findings detailed hundreds of issues ranging from rodent infestations and deteriorating floors to missing fixtures and electrical work completed without proper permits.

Schor said a third-party contractor hired by the LHC will work to solve the problems sooner than later but he didn’t set a hard deadline on the ongoing improvements. He estimated the work could take months, but he doubled down on a prior commitment to expedite remaining inspections and quickly bring the dwellings up to city code.

“We have identified what the issues are and now we are moving forward to make sure they’re in compliance as soon as possible,” Schor said, noting residents should still feel safe to live inside the buildings. “We’re not going to put someone out of a home and make them homeless because there’s a hole in the drywall.”

Ongoing criticism surrounding the LHC reached a head in June when a fire at LaRoy Froh killed a mother and her 5-yearold son. The City Council has since passed a largely symbolic vote of no confidence against the LHC’s board of directors, citing concerns with transparency, cooperation and communication to city officials.

Only Schor, however, holds the authority to fire board members. He said he plans to fix problems revealed in the recent inspection reports before making decisions to adjust staffing or restructure leadership of that department. He doesn’t exactly know how the problems began; He just wants to find a solution before it becomes worse.

“We did an inspection, and we’re fixing what we saw that needs to be fixed,” Schor said before abruptly ending a press conference. “We inspected it when we got here. This what we found and we’re moving forward to fix it.”

City inspectors years ago spotted problems at South Washington Park among other city-managed properties. Missing smoke detectors, broken fixtures, pest infestations and other cleanliness issues pushed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to then label the LHC as a “troubled agency.”

The LHC board was then required to submit monthly progress reports to federal officials after former Executive Director Patricia Baines-Lake opted to retire from the gig and concerns surround the units continued to grow.

Five City Council members, amid the growing criticism, earlier this year asked for the LHC’s recently installed executive director, Martell Armstrong, to resign or be fired by the board. Schor, in response, released inspection reports from LaRoy Froh and maintained city inspections couldn’t have prevented the fatal fire.

Multiple LHC board members — including ChairmanTony Baltimore — have since publicly voiced an unwillingness to step aside. Schor last month appointed the president of South Washington Park apartments’ residents council, Don Sober, to replace Commissioner Bobby Joyce. No approval was needed from the City Council.

Unnamed “complications” prevented the release of a completed fire inspection report by this week, said Baltimore. But Schor still maintained the city wasn’t to blame. City staff — even if they were to inspect the unit today — wouldn’t pry into walls to find faulty electrical wiring inside.

City inspectors previously found several safety concerns within a 2-year-old report but couldn’t locate documents to prove the LHC had ever fixed the problems. The building last year passed a HUD inspection, but Schor maintained that the apartments needed to pass inspections at both the local and federal levels.

“We want these fixes to happen, as we believe the board does, so we want to make sure we give time to get these fixed done so they’re done right,” added Economic Development and Planning Director Brian McGrain, noting that incomplete inspections for remaining LHC properties will continue at a slow but ambiguously steady pace.

Schor said bids from a third-party contractor will be reviewed on Tuesday and will head to the commission before the end of the week. He offered no promises on a completion date but suggested the firm selected for the job could keep busy through November, racking up bills that Baltimore estimated could reach up to $100,000.

“We want it fixed and that’s our priority,” Schor added. “That’s our whole priority right now.”