Different directions

By Neal McNamara

Lynne Martinez is out as executive director of the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition

The board of the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition two weeks ago accepted the resignation of three-year executive director Lynne Martinez, with its president saying that Martinez left in part because there was disagreement over how she should balance fundraising and several ongoing development projects.

“The board was going in one direction, Lynne was going in another,” board President Mary Levine said. “For the sake of both parties, it made sense to accept her resignation.”

Levine would not comment on the specifics of the resignation, but did say it had to do with fundraising and two complex development issues: the development of a piece of the former School for the Blind and a housing complex on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Martinez, too, would not comment very far on her departure.

“It’s not a big deal. Sometimes boards and directors just separate and everybody keeps doing good things,” she said. “That’s all, not a big deal.”

Martinez was a state representative from Lansing from 1994 to 1999. Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed her Michigan’s Children’s Ombudsman in 2003. She stepped down to run for mayor of Lansing in 2005, coming in third in the primary to incumbent Tony Benavides and then state Sen. Virg Bernero. For nine years before joining the Legislature, Martinez was an Ingham County commissioner.

Some sources say that Martinez was asked for her resignation for several reasons, including personality conflicts with some GLHC staff and board members. One source said that there might have been acrimony between Martinez and some members of the board since she was hired. Martinez got the job in 2006 after joining the GLHC board, and was a candidate for the executive director job along with former board President Chris Kolbe and Vice President Judi Gardi, and some outside candidates.

Levine would not comment on those accusations, and Gardi did not return a call seeking comment.

The GLHC in the interim has hired Kathryn Draper, who Levine said has worked in human resources and finance for General Motors Corp. and the city of Lansing. Draper is a contract employee with the GLHC. Levine said an official search for a permanent executive director could begin in January.

Levine said that Martinez did do fundraising, but not up to the board’s expectations.

“She was fulfilling fundraising expectations, but not at the level the board expected them to be filled,” Levine said.

According to the GLHC’s 2007 filings with the IRS, the organization received about $77,000 in public support and over $630,000 in government grants. In 2006, the organization received about $270,000 in public support, and around $640,000 in government support.

Levine said that another issue was a development plan for fundraising for the GLHC, which was supposed to be done but never was. Levine said that a plan will be developed and Draper will be charged with finding “sustained” large donors.

The GLHC, which primarily buys, rehabilitates and then sells homes to low- to moderate-income buyers, has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy, Levine said.

“Our ability to acquire homes, rehab them and then sell them was very successful,” she said. “We made money doing that in our target neighborhoods. But because of the downturn, our ability to turn around those houses has been very, very challenging.”

Levine said that the selling of houses has been particularly difficult over the last two to three years.

The GLHC’s three main fundraising efforts — an early summer garden tour, a fall home tour and an event at the BoarsHead Theater — did not meet expectations. Levine said that more people than ever attended the BoarsHead fundraiser, but “one or two” major benefactors did not donate this year. Levine did not know which ones specifically, but she listed some of the GLHC’s largest donors as Granger, Dart Bank, Capital National Bank and the Great Lakes Capital Fund.

Patrick St. George, the GLHC’s interim executive director between Martinez and former director Almus Thorp, said that when he had the job he thought the organization was too dependent on its three fundraising events and not enough on fees generated from the development projects.

“If the organization is going to be successful it needs to have a larger percentage of its income come from development projects,” he said.

Levine said that the GLHC would begin to seek out how to provide more supportive housing.

“There’s a great need for housing for (single parent homes) to assist them and provide wrap-around services,” she said.

One of the two larger projects the GLHC is in the process of completing is the Ballentine Apartments on Pennsylvania Avenue near the corner of May Street. The apartment building will be owned by the GLHC and a Southfield-based housing development nonprofit and will provide apartments and social services for the formerly homeless, victims of domestic violence and the mentally challenged. Levine said that the rehabilitation of Ballentine would generate a “fairly nice onetime developer’s fee that will sustain the organization.”

Another large GLHC project is the rehabilitation of the library at the former School for the Blind. The GLHC acquired the library this summer and plans to use it for its own office space. Levine did not know exactly how much the building cost, but she said that it was around $200,000 to $230,000. It would also lease office space to other housing and financial services nonprofits and as well as Head Start for classrooms. However, the building needs renovations. All of the buildings at the School for the Blind property are connected to a dedicated power plant, and the library must be removed from that and will have to be connected to new power systems. The library needs roof repairs, plus possible asbestos abatement and plumbing upgrades. Levine said that the financial feasibility of the entire project also has to be determined. The GLHC received $232,793 this year from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to rehabilitate the library.

Levine said the GLHC is looking for an executive director who is technically proficient in urban housing development, adept at fundraising, and can still maintain the focus of the GLHC, which is to provide affordable housing.

“(Martinez) had certain comfort levels in certain areas, and in certain areas she didn’t,’ Levine said. “It’s not that she was bad, it just that she didn’t meet with our full expectations, and I think that’s where there’s the mutuality that this wasn’t working for everybody, including her.”