PHA plans to award $510,000 to resident group led by Greene ally

Carl Greene
Carl Greene
Posted: May 31, 2012

The Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to award a three-year contract for $510,000 to a resident group run by Asia Coney, a tenant leader whose e-mails and other records were subpoenaed in 2010 by a federal grand jury.

Coney, an ally of ousted PHA executive director Carl R. Greene, previously was the $108,000-a-year director of Tenant Support Services Inc. (TSSI), a nonprofit affiliate of the housing authority that ran programs aimed at empowering tenants, including finding them work.

While PHA severed ties with that group, Coney, who still lives in public housing, retained a power base as president of the Resident Advisory Board, an umbrella group for tenant leaders. In February, she was reelected to a three-year term leading the group, which works with tenant councils and resolves disputes between the 81,000 residents and PHA.

At Wednesday's monthly board meeting, PHA's sole commissioner - Karen Newton Cole of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - was expected to vote on whether to approve a three-year "memorandum of understanding" with the resident board, which operates independently of PHA. The board meeting, however, was abruptly canceled late Tuesday.

Some tenants have criticized the impending contract.

"The Resident Advisory Board does not speak for the entire public housing community," said Peggy Jones, president of a resident council in West Philadelphia's Mantua section.

Michael P. Kelly, PHA's executive director, said that if Coney's critics among public housing leaders do not like her leadership, they can vote her out the next time around - in 2015.

Federal law mandates tenant participation in the running of housing authorities, but Kelly said there was no HUD directive to approve the deal with the Coney-led group now. The federal agency took control of PHA a year ago after audits determined that its administration was in disarray and that it could no longer operate effectively.

Kelly acknowledged that PHA - not HUD - decided on the $510,000 figure. He said the planned contract has built-in checks and balances, and clearly defined tasks and deadlines. There is also a provision for regular audits and more oversight than previous agreements with the group.

A higher bar

"What we've attempted to do now is move the bar higher through special benchmarks laid out in the contract," Kelly said.

The resident board, however, is not governed by strict new ethics rules being implemented for PHA employees, agency spokeswoman Nichole Tillman said.

"This is an arm's-length organization," Kelly said.

Coney could not be reached for comment.

As the head of TSSI, she reported directly to Greene, who was ousted in 2010 after the disclosure of the secret settlement of multiple sexual-harassment complaints.

After Greene's termination, federal authorities began to scrutinize the finances of TSSI and subpoenaed all records, specifically demanding Coney's e-mails. PHA previously gave TSSI more than $1 million a year.

Criticized as divisive

Coney receives no salary as president of the advisory board. Of the $159,376 budget proposed for the first year, roughly $100,000 is earmarked for staff, including a full-time program manager, Sonya Jones, a longtime Coney associate, and a part-time assistant.

A year ago, PHA tried to pass a new three-year budget of $762,256 for the advisory board, but the matter was tabled after protests from other resident leaders who criticized Coney's divisive management style. At the time, the advisory board had only 11 active members from 32 tenant councils.

An internal PHA report written at the time described Coney as someone who listens to allies - but not opponents.

Samuel Little, PHA's new deputy director of resident and community services, noted that the proposed contract must be renewed every year. He said he also holds monthly meetings with all resident councils, something new at PHA.

"Our eyes are wide open," said Barbara Adams, PHA's general counsel. "We can control how much we watch going forward to make sure things that were questionable in the past don't occur."

In addition to her power base at the advisory board, Coney also ran a statewide political action committee, Equity PAC.

In a May 3, 2005, registration with the Pennsylvania Department of State for Equity PAC, Coney listed the resident advisory board as the PAC's "affiliated/connected organization."

In the 2005 filing, Equity PAC's address was listed as 1401 W. York St., the address of the resident board.

In 2005, Equity PAC filed its election spending report but failed to account for more than $100,000 in payments it received from candidates since 2006.

City and state election laws require political action committees to file detailed reports on income and spending.


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

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