Saturday, July 24, 2004

Rep. Chabot mediates HUD-city dispute



By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot said Friday that he's received assurances from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the agency would work with Cincinnati to resolve a dispute over grant money used to renovate Huntington Meadows in Bond Hill.

HUD has asked the city to repay $3.95 million in grants used to fix up Huntington Meadows. The agency said the city violated an agreement that required it to maintain Huntington Meadows as low-income housing for at least five years after renovations.

Huntington Meadows went bankrupt in 2002, four years after renovations. More than 200 families were evicted.

In February, Cincinnati City Council agreed to spend $13.5 million to help two Bond Hill churches redevelop the site into market-rate housing.

HUD officials said the city's efforts to keep Huntington Meadows open were "inadequate."

Mayor Charlie Luken asked Chabot, a Westwood Republican, and other state lawmakers to use their political clout to intervene.

Chabot, who sees himself as a mediator, said he's been in discussions with HUD officials almost daily.

"I'm committed to doing everything possible to help the city," Chabot said. "But I have an obligation to protect the taxpayers as well and prevent the waste and abuse of federal dollars."

Chabot said HUD officials might be willing to forgive the money if city officials can produce documentation showing they did everything within their power to keep Huntington Meadows viable prior to foreclosure. Such documentation might include building inspection reports, letters calling for the developer/manager to repay contract loans and documents showing tenant eligibility.

Columbus city officials were able to produce the necessary documents to HUD when low-income housing developments there, run by the same manager at Huntington Meadows, went into foreclosure. HUD did not force Columbus to repay its federal grants.

Chabot said that, according to HUD, the city appears to be dragging its feet in producing such documents.

"Thus far the city just hasn't made its case," Chabot said. "HUD is not satisfied that the city has met its burden. I hope the city is able to demonstrate that it did do all it could."

HUD officials did not comment Friday. Deborah Holston, assistant city manager of development, could not be reached for comment Friday.

"I think it is absurd that HUD and the City Council in the '90s made a mess of Huntington Meadows," Luken said. "We (more recent city councils) cleaned it up and now they want their money back. I think we will be fine ultimately."

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E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com




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