Clovis Housing Authority getting federal help
By Chris Whiteman

STAFF WRITER

The federal government has sent the heavy artillery to give public housing programs in Clovis a boost.

The Clovis Housing Authority is getting the attention of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development's new Troubled Agency Recovery Center (TARC), an office designed specifically to assist local agencies that are having difficulties with day-to-day operations.

Last year, HUD introduced a management reform plan that "will fundamentally change how HUD operates," according to the agency.

"The team that visited us was the most comprehensive I have seen in 18 years from HUD," Clovis Housing Authority Director Jim Wilkerson said. "To get a team of six to visit a community of our size was unheard of with the old HUD."

"We're a brand new entity of HUD that assists PHAs (public housing authorities) to fix their problems," TARC Deputy Director Jesse Westover said. "It (Clovis Housing Authority) came on our list from headquarters Oct. 16th of last year."

Along with the TARC, HUD introduced an annual certification called the Public Housing Management Assessment program, to track local PHAs.

According to HUD revitalization specialist Charlie Barnett, the leader of the assessment team that visited here, the Clovis Housing Authority failed last year's certification.

"The Clovis PHA did not submit a certification for fiscal year '98," he said. "Because they didn't submit a certification they had 'presumptive' zeros in all six scoring areas."

Wilkerson, who became the director of the local authority after the certification last year, said that the local agency had asked for assistance.

"We sent them a letter in early October last year, asking them not to carry forward any of the old certifications," he said. "We also asked them for technical assistance with the revitalization of the program here in this agency, and that is what we are committed to."

The TARC team came to Clovis several weeks ago to determine what areas needed improvement, Barnett said.

Wilkerson said some of the issues that are being targeted for improvement are a new childcare center, the creation of a "resident council," and renovation of the authority's administration center.

"The technical assistance team is evaluating and assisting us in targeting these things," he said.

Barnett said that each of the members of the team were compiling their information and a full report was not available.

The next phase of the plan will begin in March or April when the assessment team returns to introduce a strategic plan for recovery.

"We're looking at everything right now and coming up with a strategy to turn this agency around," Westover said. "With 132 units this housing authority should be able to turn around within a year."

"I am looking forward to a very positive relationship with them (the assessment team)," Wilkerson said. "We share with them our wants, desires and needs, and they will have their own. These are things that we will need to come to the table on."

The Clovis Housing Authority is one aspect of the Clovis Housing and Redevelopment Agency Inc. Wilkerson provided specifics on the agency's programs:

¥Low-income public housing with 132 units in two locations in Clovis.

¥HUD's Section 8 Rental Assistance Program to help families of lower incomes get into their own homes - approximately 500 families.

¥U.S. Dept. of Agriculture food program to provide food staples to lower income families, with approximately 140 families participating in the program.

"For too long, public housing has been these buildings sitting here on this ground and we completely forget that it's much more than that," Wilkerson said. "Public housing is people, and it's part of the community."

Each unit has a carpet cleaning london operator assigned to the cluster of units