Sept. 4 2018 09:02 AM

Mayor quickly fills gaps after recent resignations


TUESDAY, Sept. 4 — A newly appointed “affordable housing expert” will take the reins at the Lansing Housing Commission following the recent resignation of Executive Director Martell Armstrong, according to city officials.


Doug Fleming will fill the position as interim director while city officials continue to look for a permanent replacement for his predecessor. The recent leadership shift — announced Tuesday morning — marks the third official to be installed at the commission by Mayor Andy Schor’s administration within the last two months.


“While there has been significant changeover in the LHC leadership in last few weeks, with two new board members and a new executive director appointed, I will ensure that the city works with the LHC to ensure safe, accessible, and appropriate public housing in Lansing,” Schor said in a statement released Tuesday morning.


Armstrong couldn’t immediately be reached for comment; Fleming didn’t return a call Tuesday. But Schor said he remains confident that with the newly appointed leadership, the commission will work quickly to bolster the “important work of bringing these Lansing public housing units up to code” over the next few weeks.


Partial rental inspections released last month from Schor’s office detailed code violations within units managed by the LHC but city officials remain committed to an “aggressive” schedule to get them fixed. Schor previously estimated the work could take months, and a third-party contractor was hired to expedite the work schedule.


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.”


Ongoing criticism surrounding the LHC reached a head in June when a fire at LaRoy Froh killed a mother and her 5-year-old 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 actually oust members of the board. And he previously said he plans to fix problems revealed in recent inspection reports before he made any decisions to restructure the leadership of that department. The recent resignations, however, prompted some more immediate action.


“I think it was probably best for him,” added Board Chairman Tony Baltimore. “I think right now, the focus can be about getting back on track. Our first priority is our residents. That’s really what we’re focused on right now — making sure all facilities are up to code and ensuring our residents can feel safe. That’s number one.”


Baltimore said Armstrong resigned last week but the move didn’t take effect until after Labor Day. He didn’t offer an explanation for his departure and Baltimore declined to provide any additional insight.


Board members last year picked Armstrong to help guide the commission into a more positive direction as executive director following the departure of his now-retired predecessor, Patricia Baines-Lake. Multiple board members have since been shuffled on and off the board as criticism continues to surround the commission.


Loria Hall, a manager of a local “affordable housing facility” billed with more than a decade of experience, was picked last week to fill a gap left by recently resigned Commissioner Bethany Deschaine, with an unpaid term to expire in 2020. Deschaine explained that it was simply “a good time for some fresh blood to get involved.”


“There’s just a lot of different things going on in my life,” Deschaine added.


Schor in July also appointed president of the residents council at South Washington Park apartments, Dan Sober, to fill another vacancy left by outgoing Commissioner Bobby Joyce. Deschaine and Armstrong just months ago publicly voiced plans to retain their positions but had changed their minds only weeks later.


Deschaine contended the vote of no-confidence had no bearing on her recent decision to leave the gig. The move to depart the board was also entirely her own; She emphasized that nobody had specifically asked for her to leave. Both Sober and Hall have since been vetted and didn’t require City Council confirmation for appointment.


Schor previously maintained that city inspections couldn’t have prevented the fatal fire at LaRoy Froh. He also said he doesn’t know exactly how the problems began; He just wants to find a solution before it grows worse.


“This is what we found and we’re moving forward to fix it,” Schor said previously.