May 27 2009 12:00 AM

Former Lansing Housing Commission head Chris Stuchell’s resignation was quiet, and so are area officials about his performance.


When the Lansing Housing Commission board of commissioners accepted the resignation of Executive Director Chris Stuchell at its May 16 meeting, it must have been with little fanfare. Little because the only people who knew it happened were those in the meeting where Stuchell’s letter of resignation was passed around to the four board members. Later that night, President Vince Villegas would send an email to a smattering of press outlets an email about the resignation of a man who, by Villagas’ count, had served 21 years. The press release was just one tersely worded paragraph, featuring a comment only from Villegas.

So that's what 21 years gets you, just one paragraph? Or maybe the lack of fanfare was due to the bad blood, as some have said, between Stuchell and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero over the commissions slowness in redeveloping the burned Oliver Towers building on Capitol Avenue?

Perhaps, or maybe there was just little
else to say. Asking local politicians and those who work in public
housing about Stuchell is like asking about the original settlers of
Lansing: Very few people have anything to say either way. There are few
outspoken supporters and even fewer critics.

Apparently only one person
in the entire Housing Commission office (which boasts, on its Web site,
50 employees) even knew how long Stuchell had been the executive

The commissions Web site boasts of its “development
division,” which creates limited liability corporations to acquire land
and property. While HUD has encouraged the acquisition of land and
formation of such companies to bring in revenue, it was precisely this
type of activity that prompted the federal Office of the Inspector
General to audit the commission, which found a problem in how the commission had used HUD funds — possibly a bookkeeping error
— when it purchased part of the former School for the Blind using an

Bob Johnson, director of the Planning and Neighborhood Development
Department, was a Housing Commission board member for about a year
before being replaced. He has said the purpose of his appointment was
to assist in the acquisition of the School for the Blind Property on
the city’s north side. He “worked closely” with Stuchell on the
purchase, he said. But Johnson referred questions about Stuchells
performance back to the board.

While Johnson noted the boards
“concern” over the audit report, HUD officials said, "The Lansing
Housing Commission continues to work with the Detroit Office of Public
Housing to address the findings and concerns cited by the Inspector

Robert Nelson, a public housing hub director in HUD’s Detroit
office, was surprised to hear Stuchell had resigned, but was mum about
the man himself.

Even Stuchell’s colleagues were light on
words. Lynne Martinez, director of the Greater Lansing Housing
Coalition, expressed her surprise at the resignation. She said
Stuchell had done a “wonderful job” and was “very innovative,” and
highlighted his efforts in building senior housing and creating
residence councils, which are like neighborhood groups for public
housing developments.

Pat Curran, a former commission vice
president, called Stuchell “one of the most apolitical people Ive ever
met.” She said the directors performance reviews were always
satisfactory, and at no point in her seven years
on the board did it consider firing him. (Villegas said the current
board was in the midst of a performance evaluation when Stuchell

Scores provided by HUD show the Lansing Housing Commissions
performance from 2001 to 2008 was rated as “standard” or “high” in all
but one year, when it was listed as "standard/advisory" in its 2001
public housing assessment. Those scores put the commission in line with
the Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids housing commissions, and far ahead of
Flint and Detroit.

So, according to HUD, Stuchell’s
performance was essentially “fine” — aside from the findings of the
audit report.

Stuchell and the commission seemed to have operated far
below the radar until a 2000 fire at Oliver Towers that thrust the
commission into the local media spotlight, raising questions of
ownership and what should happen to it. In fact, a search of the
archives of the Lansing State Journal for Stuchell turns up only 31
hits, some of which are duplicates, and most of which deal with the

Further, the commission has been a member of the Public Housing
Authorities Directors Association since 1997, an assistant at the
lobbying firms Washington office confirmed. How active
Stuchell or the commission was in the association wasn't known.

commission apparently hasnt worked with many outside agencies, other
than selling part of its School for the Blind property to the Greater
Lansing Housing Coalition. Martinez said that deal is expected to close
at the end of this month. Likewise, Bruce Johnston, executive director of Ingham County Housing Commission, said he'd never crossed paths with Stuchell. Officials
in East Lansing said they havent worked with Lansing or Stuchell,

Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, however, said there
was a bit of interaction between his Ingham County Land Bank and the
housing commission.

"There probably could have been more of a
relationship, but there was a relationship,” he said.

Summing up what
seems to have been the only thing anyone had to say about Stuchell, he
added, "We got along fine."

Maybe that's the crux of the argument after
all. Villegas stated his desire to find a new director who "is dynamic,
someone who is capable of moving the organization forward."

echoed the statement nearly verbatim, saying the next director would
work to make the organization more "dynamic" and visible in the