Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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January 8, 2012

Housing authority enjoys a new beginning

Milford office helps rebuild services and credibility of struggling Goshen agency.

MILFORD —  While an effort is on-going to sort out Goshen Housing Authority’s record keeping nightmare, folks in Milford are starting to rebuild the agency and reconnect with its new community partner.

Six months after the Goshen agency was shut down and its staff let go, Goshen Housing Authority has found a new foothold in Milford and appears destined to be part of the first housing authority consortium in Indiana.

Board members from the Goshen Housing Authority recently agreed to a second six-month interim extension of a working agreement with the Warsaw Housing Authority.

After Goshen authorities approached Warsaw officials about helping the struggling agency 11 months ago, efforts to merge the two entities soon began, according to Pam Kennedy, executive director of Warsaw Housing Authority.

The two agencies were able to acquire three modular buildings through two Brethren churches and have merged them into a permanent office on West Catherine Street on property owned by the adjacent Milford Public Library.

Goshen and Warsaw officials agreed to a second temporary working agreement until bookkeeping records are resolved later this year, Kennedy said.

An outside audit of Goshen records began last year and should be finished within a few months, officials said.

A lack of coherent records from Goshen dated back at least five years and the auditing firm from Illinois has so far reassembled information from 2007. Now that a starting point has been established, resolving questions about prior years should come together much faster, Kennedy predicted.

Kennedy declined to discuss much of what she describes as the mismanagement of the Goshen office and is instead focused on restoring the agency’s credibility and services in Goshen.

“We’re building it back up the way it’s supposed to be run,” Kennedy said, “but that’s no easy feat.”

While the notion of a Goshen agency operating 11 miles south in Milford might sounds awkward and inefficient, the merger appears to be a solid, long-term plan, Kennedy said.

Makes sense

With shrinking administrative dollars available through Housing and Urban Development, Kennedy thinks combining smaller agencies makes sense.

“By joining forces, we have more of a shot at keeping (staff) and keeping expenses down,” Kennedy said.

She said she also believes that eventually smaller housing authorities will be merged with larger, more urban offices such as Fort Wayne or South Bend.

Working as a consortium, Kennedy said “we can be a regional entity where we are accessible to rural people.”

Kennedy said they have made arrangements to provide transportation for clients in some situations and the office staff is willing to travel to Goshen and Warsaw to help work with elderly and disabled clients.

“We really thought it would be an obstacle and it hasn’t been,” Kennedy said. “People have taken it better than I thought they would.”

The Milford office has added staff to work on the Goshen’s Section 8 caseload, which is much bigger than Warsaw’s.

The Warsaw Housing Authority has grown considerably in the past 11 years. When Kennedy joined the staff, the office consisted of one full-time and one part-time person.

The agency has expanded in recent years and now provides housing assistance to all of Kosciusko County and established a not for profit housing agency similar to LaCasa Inc., in Goshen.

Kennedy said the Milford office now has a staff of 10 people.

She said she plans to start contacting churches and other groups, including some that work with homeless people, in hopes of improving services.

Report to Council

The Goshen City Council received an update Tuesday from Richard Miller, the former Goshen Housing Authority board president, who said the audit could be done by March and promised a full report.

“There have been a lot of changes since the consortium started and the director of Warsaw took over Goshen’s administration,” Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman said Tuesday night. “It’s very different from what it was a couple of years ago.”

Meanwhile, a committee made up of both agency boards has been meeting regularly to discuss the consortium and then reports back to each group’s board, Kennedy said.

Under the “consortia” concept, the Milford office would have a new name, and Goshen, Warsaw and Kosciusko programs would retain their identities.

Sharing the cost of rent and utilities is based on the amount of time staff devotes to vouchers. Goshen is paying a larger share because they have more vouchers, she said.

Kennedy said they are already seeing some savings as a result of the cooperative effort.

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