Mission Housing Authority votes against grant funds for local senior center- again

After appearing on the agenda for a second time, commissioners at the Mission Housing Authority voted Wednesday to once again not let a local senior center allow members of the public to enter, effectively preventing them from receiving more funding for employees.

The senior center at Mission’s Palm Plaza Development had $40,000 in funds to maintain meal operations on hold by the Area Agency on Aging 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.

MissionHousingAuthorityLogoThe center runs on public housing and AAA funds for maintenance and operations services, respectively.

According to housing authority Deputy Director Jaime Ayala, AAA provides to the development plaza a $40,000 grant to serve as a refund to provide salaries for kitchen staff in the senior center.

Concerned with how members of the public were using the services, however, Garza reached out to AAA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see if any violations were made, creating the hold.

No violations were found by either agencies, Ayala told the board at a meeting earlier this month. 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, which was denied by the majority.

The request to send the letter appeared on the agenda again Wednesday after AAA provided to the housing authority an extension of the deadline to deliver the letter that expired at the end of the month. After a discussion that lasted a little over 30 minutes, it was once again denied by the majority.

“That’s it, its dead. The program’s dead,” housing authority Executive Director Joel A. Gonzalez said.

Both Flores-Lopez and Garza criticized Gonzalez for bringing the item back after a previous discussion, and for sending a letter to Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’Caña to ask that he remove them both from the board the week after the previous meeting.

“I didn’t even get a letter but you have my number and email and know where I live,” Flores-Lopez said. “If you’d have communicated with us like we’ve been asking you to since we joined the board in January, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Previously, both Garza and Irma-Flores expressed concerns with the liability of allowing non-residents in a building they said is not up to code and has a staff of part-time employees that aren’t even properly trained in CPR and other basic elderly care.

“How much money has been allocated for these employees and why do we need to depend on AAA for it,” Flores-Lopez asked. “It would hurt me to see people coming here with strangers and invade the privacy of the elderly. I’m sure they’re having a wonderful time but no one is trained in CPR or works full time. If my mom was here and was choking would we have to wait for the ambulance to arrive since the medics are trained to handle that? Why is funding being provided for elderly activities but not to improve services that are needed?”

Gonzalez told Flores-Lopez that liability issues should not be a concern as the center is fully insured.

“Our insurance knows that the senior center receives a lot of visitors not from the Palm Plaza Development but they include them in their coverage,” Gonzalez said after the meeting, adding that he didn’t find Flores-Lopez’s concerns valid. “HUD doesn’t require [trained staff].” We’re sticking to what HUD asked us to do and provide a safe, decent, affordable home.”

Despite the constant back and forth between Flores-Lopez and Gonzalez during the meeting, a sign for an amicable relationship between the two occurred afterward when they approached each other to shake each other’s hand.

As a retired social worker, Flores-Lopez said, that action represents a positive attitude in team productivity.

“We’re having some talks. I want him to know we mean no harm and after the meeting we talked about solutions and he told me ‘our families know each other, call me tomorrow.’” Flores-Lopez said. “There’s always a solution, I respect him. I have to take it day by day.”

The housing authority is working an alternative to the AAA funding, Gonzalez said. He said after the meeting he plans to meet with Amigos del Valle-which provides the food for the senior center-to discuss them delivering meals to the tenants instead of having it at the senior center.

“They’ll miss out on joining up at the center and being sociable, but they’ll still get fed,” Gonzalez said.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 20, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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