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City of Mission may intervene in housing authority dispute

After receiving a letter from the Mission Housing Authority informing them of a hold in their funding for a local senior center-and to complain about two of its board members- the city of Mission is discussing meeting with the housing authority.

On Monday, Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’Caña received a letter from Mission Housing Authority Executive Director Joel A. Gonzalez that filled him in on the dispute that is causing a hold on the Palm Plaza Development senior center-which is funded by public housing funds and a local grant from the Area Agency on Aging.

City of Mission logoAccording to housing authority Deputy Director Jaime Ayala, AAA provides to the development plaza a $40,000 grant to serve as a refund to give salaries for kitchen staff and other part time employees in the senior center.

The grant has been put on hold after board members Irma Flores-Lopez and Connie Garza expressed concerns with the center being used by the public instead of being restricted to housing authority tenants-despite a AAA stipulation stating that the center be open to the public.

“Flores-Lopez and Garza have motioned to end such services that have been in existence for more than 30 years,” Gonzalez stated in the letter, adding that the board needs to take action in an emergency meeting before the deadline to receive the grant by Oct. 1. “Along with this action we are releasing three part time employees by 9/30/19 that are totally paid by these program funds.”

The rest of the city council and the Progress Times newspaper also received a copy of the letter.

“You may also consider withdrawing the two commissioner’s appointment and reappoint new individuals with a more civil and knowledgeable approach in dealing with the Mission Housing Authority activities and main mission of providing safe, decent affordable housing to our Community” the letter concluded.

The dispute started last month when the authority’s Deputy Director Jaime Ayala informed the board of the hold after Garza reached out to AAA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see if any violations were made by letting members of the public to use the center, creating the hold.

No violations were found by either agencies, Ayala told the board at a special meeting last week, leaving it up to the board to decide if they wanted to continue letting the public in the center. To remove the hold, Ayala said, the board had to send a letter to AAA saying they will continue to serve non-tenants in the senior center at Palm Plaza Development, which was denied by the majority to avoid any potential legal problems.

Garza, who sits on the board of AAA, acknowledged that a contingency of AAA to award these funds was that the center be open to the public. She recommended referring the non-tenants to other local adult daycares such as Amigos del Valle, which provides meals to the center. She added that if the senior center were to ultimately lose the funds, the housing authority should take advantage of local pilot programs the city offers to keep funding it.

Members of the city council discussed the letter on Monday during the city council’s comments portion of the meeting. Both commissioners Ruben Plata and Jessica Ochoa mentioned the possibility of meeting with the housing authority to discuss the hold, and how the authority is operated.

“It’s important we don’t ignore these concerns,” Plata said.

After the meeting, O’Caña said that despite agreeing with Flores-Lopez and Garza on the center need to be restricted, the city will reach out to the housing authority.

“We have a problem and it needs to be addressed, but I stand by my decision to appoint [Flores-Lopez and Garza],” O’Caña said.

Prior to the meeting, Gonzalez said he sent the letter to the mayor in the hopes of getting him to change Flores-Lopez and Garza’s mind on the issue.

“The mayor is the one who appointed these particular individuals against this project,” Gonzalez said. “We feel he’s the only one who has the influence. He’s the one who appointed them, he can change their minds. The vote they took is the one holding up the money being granted to us next month.”

Garza and Flores-Lopez have previously said their decision to prevent non-tenants from using the center stems from safety concerns such as the building not being up to code or having staff members not trained in CPR.
Garza said after the meeting that she has addressed these concerns multiple times to the board and hopes to get it rectified soon. While Flores-Lopez expressed an interest in holding an emergency meeting to discuss the senior center further, Garza admitted she didn’t see a point in holding one.

“We’ve already voted against this, how many more times should we discuss it?” Garza said.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 13, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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