Documenter: Heather Halsey Martinez

Here’s what you need to know:

  • New Fresno Housing CEO Tyrone Williams joined the joint boards of commissioners meeting for the first time since officially joining the agency on Nov. 1. 

  • A second draft of the agency’s 2022 budget was shared, which still shows an almost $500,000 shortfall. Chief Business Officer Emily De La Guerra noted that the budget was still “unsustainable” and they would be working to balance it. A member of the public submitted a letter regarding the budget and requested that they center residents in participatory budgeting

  • The Fresno Housing Authority joint boards of commissioners approved 11  items on the consent calendar, including additional grant funding and tax credits for The Arthur at Blackstone, amended investment policy and 2022 proposed utility allowance rates for tax credit properties.

The meeting (in full)

The Scene

The Fresno Housing Authority joint meeting of the boards of commissioners took place on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. The joint board meeting packet states that due to executive order N-25-20, the meeting will be held in-person for commissioners only and accessible via teleconference and Zoom for all members of the public. Meeting recordings are not easily available online. 

The Fresno Housing Authority is governed by 14 commissioners, seven of whom are appointed as city commissioners and seven as county commissioners. Five of the city commissioners are appointed by the Mayor of the City of Fresno to serve four-year, staggered terms. Two are appointed to two-year terms from among residents receiving housing assistance from Fresno Housing. Similarly, five of the county commissioners are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and two are residents receiving assistance from Fresno Housing.

City Commissioners:

Adrian Jones, Chairperson (also Marriage and Family Therapist at North Star Wellness Group)

Caine Christensen, Vice Chair (also Director of Student Support Services for Fresno Unified)

Sabrina Kelley, Commissioner (Vice President of External Relations for Community Vision)

Stacy Vaillancourt, Commissioner (also Chief Administrative Officer for Saint Agnes Medical Center)

Sharon Williams, Commissioner (also retired Fresno Juvenile Hall counselor)

Ruby Yanez, Commissioner

Vacant, Commissioner (open due to the resignation of Terra Brusseau prior to the July 9 meeting)

County Commissioners:

Cary Catalano, Chairperson (also owner of Catalano Fenske & Associates)

Nikki Henry, Vice Chair (also CIO for Fresno Unified School District)

Joey Fuentes, Commissioner (also trainer and mentor at Fresno’s Main Event boxing)

Valori Gallaher, Commissioner (also Caruthers School Boardmember)

Edugiben Ortiz, Commissioner (one of two resident commissioners)

Sophia Ramos, Commissioner (also registered nurse)

Stacy Sablan, Commissioner (also owner of Sablan Legal Services)

As the commissioners joined the Zoom meeting, Tiffany Mangum, ensured there was a quorum. Commissioner Jones led the meeting. 

Commissioners Catalano, Jones, Williams, Henry, Gallaher and Ortiz initially had their videos on. Sablan, Christensen, Vaillancourt, Fuentes and Kelley were present by phone only. Commissioners Yanez and Ramos were absent, thought Yanez joined for the last few minutes of the meeting.

Additionally, the following staff members were present via video: Mangum, New CEO Tyrone Williams, Chief Program Officer Angie Nguyen, Chief Real Estate Officer Michael Duarte, Chief Diversity Officer Marc’ Bady, Deputy Executive Director Tracewell Hanrahan, Attorney Kenneth Price and Chief Business Officer Emily De La Guerra.

Jones thanked Nguyen for stepping in as the interim CEO for the last year, as did Henry and Gallaher. Nguyen said she knew it was the right thing to do and she had a great team behind her. Catalano also wished her a happy birthday. Vaillancourt also said she did a “fabulous” job. 

Jones then welcomes Williams to his first board meeting as CEO. They then approved the agenda. 

The meeting was then open for public comments. Mangum said they received a written public comment related to item 7a. 

Eric Payne, executive director of Central Valley Urban Institute, also made a comment by phone. He welcomed Williams to the agency and said he looks forward to working with him. 

Nominations for the city commissioners’ chairperson and vice chair for 2022 to 2023. Price said that per the bylaws, any commissioner interested in serving as the chair and vice chair needed to make their interest known two months prior to the election, but the election is scheduled to happen in December. He said they will hold office for two years and alternate between the city and county boards. 

  • Jones said that she would be interested in running again. 

    • Price said that the vice chair would have to decline to run. He did decline to run, so Price said Jones is eligible to run for chair again. 

  • Jones nominated Vaillancourt for vice chair and she accepted. 

Consent items:

  • Approved minutes of the Oct. 26 meeting. 

  • Approved additional pre-development funding for The Arthur at Blackstone. 

  • Approved the agency’s amended investment policy.

  • Approved the 2022 utility allowance rates for tax credit purposes. 

  • Approved acceptance of Permanent Local Housing Allocation (PLHA) funding for Esperanza Commons. 

  • Approved acceptance of a tax credit allocation for The Arthur at Blackstone.

  • Approved acceptance of the amended resolution for the infill infrastructure grant funding for The Arthur at Blackstone. 

  • Approved contract award for general contractor services at Esperanza Commons. 

  • Approved the Oath or Affirmation of Office policy. 

  • Approved a conventional loan to finance interior renovations at 1260 Fulton Street. 

  • Approved adoption of resolution pursuant to Assembly Bill 361-public agency meetings. 

Discussion items:

  • Chief Business Officer Emily De La Guerra provided an update on the 2022 federal and agency budget. 

    • Mangum noted a public comment that was received today and read it aloud. 

      • Submitted by community resident Stacy Williams and asked the agency to center its residents in participatory budgeting.

      • “Our understanding was that those most adversely affected by racial economic disparities would move to the front of the line of funding allocations, this board is committed to centering residents and has repeatedly said they would like to support a proposal to use a small portion of funds for participatory budgeting,” Mangum read.

      • She continued to read that participatory budgeting empowers residents to find solutions and “knits communities together.”

      • The letter stated, “leaders in more than 3,000 cities and municipalities have implemented participatory budgeting as a way to listen to citizens, build trust between citizens and city leadership, and perhaps most importantly, build budgets that reflect and align with community residents, particularly those whose voices arent’t typically included or heard.”

      • Catalano said that was “an uncomfortable letter” because he felt it was unfair to target a single employee and it mentioned De La Guerra. 

        • “I don’t think targeting any one of our employees is fair when they don’t know what is going on internally,” he said.

    • Current draft shows $46 million in revenue and $1.6 million in non-operating expenses. 

    • De La Guerra said it is still unsustainable and not something they would recommend. 

    • 2021 projections for income is $2.0 million in 2021 and $0.8 million in 2022. 

    • She said they could end up $5 million in reserves at the end of 2022. 

    • She said they will focus on new strategic initiatives that focus on partnerships, rather than internal programming. 

    • Hire a grant writer to explore funding opportunities. 

    • Final budget will be presented at the Dec. 14 meeting. 

    • Williams said they are in a “delicate financial situation” given that there are numerous outside forces that impact their funding sources and the agency’s ability to include those sources in their budget. He said the goal always is to have a balanced budget, but there are other factors at the federal and state level that weigh on it. 

      • Much relies on them getting development fees. 

      • “I am very clear about the importance of resident empowerment and resident engagement. Our goal is to honor the recommendation of the ad-hoc committee and not only honor, but embrace their recommendations.” 

      • One way to do so, he says, is to have a person focused on grants for resident engagement. But he said they could never be fully funded through grants, because when the grant ends “it leaves our residents hanging.” 

      • He said they are looking for a sustainable income stream for the resident empowerment engagement activities. 

    • Jones asked De La Guerra what this means for the Heaton pilot program. 

      • She said that they would work with their internal staff and partners to identify what the program could look like. She said Fresno Unified has already committed to helping with the work at Heaton.

    • Kelley said they approved a large “really expensive” police contract months ago, along with $200,000 dedicated to bringing in community based organizations (CBOs) to help facilitate relationships with the community and police. She asked if those dollars were “in the budget for reduction”. 

      • Kelley said at that time she shared her concern for the high cost for an already existing service. 

      • “Here we are with an almost $500,000 deficit, paying for police services that the city already provides,” Kelley said.

      • She said she doesn’t know of any other housing agency that is paying for police directly. 

      • She also questioned the $200,000 that “they don’t really have a strategy for.”

      • She asked if they could look at that to see if it could help bring down the deficit.

      • De La Guerra said the police contracts are paid by a separate “limited partnership” budget, so if those contracts were eliminated it wouldn’t reduce the “unrestricted draw on reserves.” 

        • She said they committed to both the police contract and CBO partnerships and that safety for residents and employees was “the highest priority for us in this organization,” so they did include both the approximately $300,000 for police and $200,000 for “working with CBOs to increase and enhance and increase safety at our properties” in the budget for 2022 and they would propose to keep it in the budget. 

      • Kelley reiterated that they approved $200,000 to bring in CBOs. “I understand the need for safety, but I still struggle with having that $200,000 earmarked and then there’s been some meetings with CBOs and then they are texting me saying, ’Why are we at the table with Housing Authority and they are asking us for a strategy to distribute this funding?’”

        • “I just don’t think we had a good, solid plan in place for that and if we are $500,000 down and we are looking at scaling back other critical resident services, understanding safety is a priority, we have the police contract in play. I’m not sure what safety community based organizations can bring to us on our sites when they can’t even be there after hours,” Kelley said.

        • “I would like to revisit that because $200,000 is $200,000 and if we have a $500,000 budget (deficit), maybe we need to be more frugal in our approach and see where we might leverage existing relationships that aren’t a cost to the agency,” she said.

      • Nguyen said she would “respectfully disagree” with Kelley and they do have a strategy of how the funding will be used for the CBOs, but they are waiting to “leverage” the work being done through the West Fresno California Avenue Neighborhood (CAN) initiative

        • “We have a pretty robust series of public safety conversations happening that are being led by Thrivance with our CAN work,” Nguyen said. “As a result of those, we are taking a step back and whatever strategies we come up with through that work and through those conversations and through those trainings about the activations around public safety, is where we’re going to leverage and then apply those strategies when we put that funding out to the community.”

      • Kelley said that it was her understanding that the CAN work was totally separate and a different stream of funding.

        • To which, Nguyen said “it’s a great way of not duplicating the work and taking what we learn for southwest Fresno and then applying it to east Fresno, which is the other side of town that gets the police services as well.”

        • Kelley said she appreciates that work, but she thinks, “the broader conversation is, do we have $200,000 to spend in this way when we have existing partnerships in place and maybe how might we work with what we already have in our hands being that we already have a $500,000 deficit.”

        • Kelley continued saying that no one ever circled back with them on the $200,000 earmarked for CBOs, so they “never got an update on the strategy.”

        • “Best and highest use of that $200,000 is not waiting on strategy from the CAN work, which is very different from what we’re talking about to inform community safety at our properties when we already have existing programs, service sand partners in place,” Kelley said. 

        • “My view may not be popular,” she said and that she was the only vote against the police contract when it was approved in May 2021.

    • Sablan commented on the “push and pull” of the budget saying that “budgets are living and breathing documents, they ebb and flow as we progress through the year.”

      • She added that when they accept recommendations and strategies from different ad hocs, they “may not always get to put them in place at that time during that fiscal year.”

    • Catalano said he appreciated the conversation they had at the executive committee level.

      • “We all recognize that the ad hoc recommendations are things we’d like to get to, things we’d like to see and things that need to be sustainable,” he said. “So we recognize that while we want to have additional opportunities, we have to remember what our primary focus is and then when we add in additional things, it’s going to cost.”

      • He asked De La Guerra to confirm that even if they didn’t have the police contract and CBO commitment, the deficit would still be $500,000.

      • He asked all the board members, staff and community members to meet with Williams so “they can have a robust conversation in the spring.”

    • Kelley thanked Catalano and clarified her comments on the $200,000 of the police contract that dedicated for CBOs. She said that was not coming out of a separate budget and was coming out of the budget in front of them.

      • Catalano asked if they have executed any partnership agreements with CBOs and De La Guerra said they have not. 

      • Nguyen added to that point saying, “We are working through the strategy plan and what is happening with the CAN work around public safety, we’re going to leverage that strategy to apply it to what we had in mind.”

        • “Now, if this board wants to go back on their commitment that they made for the $200,000 then that’s certainly up for you all to discuss,” Nguyen said.

      • Kelley said she thinks it’s a warranted discussion and the CAN work is a “totally separate issue.” 

      • Catalano suggested that Kelley and Williams have a conversation on this and discuss it in greater detail so that between then and the next board meeting, they can bring “greater clarity.”

        • “I feel uncomfortable reneging on my commitment until we have a deeper dive on the issue,” he said.

      • Kelley said she agrees they need to have a deeper conversation, but said she does believe the CAN work and public safety work with CBOs are separate.

    • Williams said she felt like that was a question of “integrity” and backpedaling to consider eliminating the $200,000 dedicated to CBO partnerships.

      • “When we give our word and agree on something and we vote for that thing, I don’t see us going backwards to revisit anything and revote something,” she said.

      • “To me that’s a waste of time and a question of integrity,” Williams said. “People won’t be able to trust that what we say is what we’re going to do.”

      • “If that $200,000 is in any way related to public safety and resident security, I don’t care what program name you put on that $200,000, it’s to secure and safeguard our residents,” she said. “If it doesn’t benefit the safety and security of the residents, then we reneged.”

    • Gallaher thanked De La Guerra for her work. 

  • Chief Real Estate Officer Michael Duarte provided an update on real estate development:

    • The Arthur at Blackstone is pending an award on Nov. 17.

    • Seeking financing for Sun Lodge and Citrus Gardens 

    • Possible motel conversion conversations continue with the City of Fresno.

      • He said the second round of Project Home Key financing is being explored, as well as a consulting role with the city to help them facilitate the application and execution. 

    • Esperanza Commons financial closing scheduled in December. 

      • He said that approval of the omnibus funding would allow them to move forward. 

      • He said they are on track to close by Dec. 10, 2021, but has some concerns about USDA restructuring causing delay and the retirement of the former USDA employee he was working with.

      • He said the delays may create the need for a special meeting in December. 

    • Catalano thanked Duarte and said he hopes he’s able to take some time off around the holidays. 

    • Payne called in to provide a comment about the budget, but was told they had moved on to the real estate update. 

Action items: 

  • Approved omnibus resolutions for the financing of Esperanza Commons with no discussion. 

    • During the vote, Mangum noted that Christensen had left the meeting. 

  • Approved authorization of CEO Tyrone Roderick Williams to execute all necessary agreements and documents on behalf of the agency. 

The commissioners moved into closed session at 6:31 p.m. to conference with real property negotiators and discuss public employment. 

They reconvened at 6:49 p.m. with no action to report back. Yanez had also joined the meeting with her video on. 

Jones opened the meeting for reports from the commissioners:

  • Kelley thanked Duarte and Bady for their work on a tenant utilization tool that helps them evaluate how they do a cost analysis for how much they pay for utilities. 

  • Sablan thanked all staff that was involved in planning a dinner for the commissioners to meet the new CEO Williams. 

  • Catalano thanked the staff and commissioners. He said it was a lot with the CEO search and public criticism of how they operate. He wished them all a Happy Thanksgiving. 

Williams then updated the commissioners:

  • He said prior to assuming his position on Nov. 1, he was able to speak with many of the commissioners. “It was a valuable, learning experience,” he said. 

  • He said he’s instituted some methods of communicating with staff, including a first of the month huddle. 

  • He said dates for a spring retreat are forthcoming. 

  • He said the federal infrastructure bill was “monumental.” He said they can tap into the broadband funding in their communities. “It really is a game changer,” he said. 

  • He said the Villages at Paragon grand opening will be tomorrow and the public are welcome to join it virtually. 

  • The next board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.

  • He said November is National Native American Heritage Month. 

  • He said training on mental health for underrepresented communities is coming and recognized Bady for his role in that. 

  • He recognized several newly hired employees and the departure of one. 

  • In closing, he said he was thankful for the opportunity to serve in Sacramento. Jones laughed and corrected him that he is not in Sacramento. “I am glad to be in Fresno,” he said laughing. 

  • He asked Mangum if they can “edit out” what he said. Mangum laughed and raised her eyebrows and said “that’s public record.” 

The meeting adjourned at 7:07 p.m. and it was noted that some commissioners and staff members needed to stay online for another meeting. The next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.

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