PHA wants to double funding of tenant group headed by tenant leader it ousted

Posted: August 25, 2011

Two months ago, the Philadelphia Housing Authority halted funding to a nonprofit tenant support organization and pressured its leader, Asia Coney, to resign amid allegations of financial mismanagement.

Now, it wants to more than double the money that it has been giving to another nonprofit tenant group headed by Coney.

PHA would like to enter a "memorandum of understanding" with the Resident Advisory Board for $762,256 over the next three years. The deal could be approved by PHA's sole commissioner, Estelle Richman, the acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, at a board meeting Monday.

"They're still feeding her with money and I don't understand why," said Andrea Foster, president of the West Park Resident Council, whose group does not belong to the resident board.

Nichole Tillman, a PHA spokeswoman, said that along with the increased funding, the new agreement "specifies increased accountability and expectations."

Coney will not run the day-to-day activities of the resident board, Tillman said. Instead, PHA's community supportive services department will increase its oversight and management of the resident board and its finances and expenditures.

The Housing Authority has financially supported the resident board for the last decade, awarding it an average of $92,000 a year since 2008 for tasks that include organizing, training, and supporting tenant councils.

"We want them to increase resident participation," Tillman said in explaining the boost in funding.

Jereon Brown, a spokesman for HUD, which supplies most of PHA's budget, declined to comment on the matter until next week's board meeting.

Coney, who continues to live in public housing, was pressured last June to resign from her $108,000-a-year job running the nonprofit Tenant Support Services Inc. As part of a far-reaching probe of PHA, federal prosecutors have subpoenaed her e-mails and TSSI's financial records. Forensic auditors for the federal government, meanwhile, have pored over the group's books.

Coney's elective post as president of the resident advisory board is unpaid. She could not be reached for comment.

An ally of ousted PHA Executive Director Carl R. Greene, Coney's control of TSSI and the resident board long made her an influential voice for public housing tenants during Greene's 13-year reign that ended last year.

She was also viewed as a divisive personality who plays favorites by some other tenant leaders, including Foster. The proposed three-year deal with the Resident Advisory Board has outraged them.

At a meeting last Monday with PHA Executive Director Michael P. Kelly, some of Coney's critics among tenant leaders faced off with her over the proposed arrangement.

Of 32 tenant councils that belong to the resident board, only 11 are active. Tillman said one of the mandates for the resident board is to substantially increase that number.

She added that the resident board will be expected to meet monthly with PHA managers and provide updates on work. The resident board "must submit invoices with detailed backup documentation in order to receive payment," Tillman said.

Coney's term expires in January. The resident organization has four other board members, plus two full-time and two part-time employees, Tillman said.

When Coney ran TSSI, a PHA audit uncovered numerous red flags, including lax financial controls, weak oversight, and conflicts of interest - among them, her dual role as head of TSSI and the resident board.

In its most recent disclosure statement with the IRS, TSSI reported that it overspent its revenue by $80,329 for the year ending June 30, 2010. For the prior year, the loss was $188,667.


Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659, jlin@phillynews.com, or @j_linq on Twitter.

 

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