Council President Questions Possible Lincoln Estates Solution

Evansville city and community leaders are trying to draft a plan to help dozens of families who could be displaced by a change in ownership at an income-based apartment complex. Announced at a heated traveling city hall meeting Wednesday, Mayor Llloyd Winnecke said he hoped to use $100,000 in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help cover relocation expenses for the impacted families. However, City Council President Missy Mosby has concerns that the proposed solution may not be sustainable in the long run.

In late April, residents around the large housing complex received letters of eviction, forcing residents to leave by June 8th, several residents said. A private company purchased the mortgage of Lincoln Estates at sheriff's sale last year, according to property records. As a result of the ownership change, many of the 112 tenants are being forced out, including dozens of people on federally-subsidized Section 8 housing, multiple residents said.

The units at Lincoln Estates serve people who are at or below 80% area media income. As many as 40 of the 112 units at the complex serve those who are on Section 8, a federally-subsidized housing program. Thirteen of the tenants were evicted because they were delinquent on their payments, according to the Evansville Housing Authority.

The city has never had any ownership stake in the company nor is it involved in the complex's operations. However, now it appears that the city could very well be financially assisting those who have to move, possibly subsidizing the residents' housing and utility deposits at their new apartments. The $100,000 in taxpayer money would come from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, an account that  is specifically intended to help with affordable housing projects. However, that money would first have to be transferred to the AHTF from the Department of Metropolitan Development. Executive director Kelley Coures said the money is coming from a line item in the budget originally intended to help with upgrades to sidewalks and infrastructure related to a private developer's affordable housing project on the south side called Homes of Evansville II. NRP Group, the private developer, failed to obtain the necessary federal tax credits in order to start the project and will have to re-apply in November. As a result, the $100,000 budgeted for infrastructure improvements was freed up, Coures said.

While the final details of the Lincoln Estates assistance program have not been finalized, Council President Missy Mosby (D-2nd Ward) already has concerns.

"My heart goes out to them. It's painful. It's upsetting to me that some people are going to be displaced and not going to have somewhere to go but I just don't know how we can sustain that for everyone," Councilwoman Mosby said. "Every day there are people being displaced from their housing situation based on their rent being raised or something else. Are we going to tell other low income families that they aren't as important as this project?"

Mosby also addressed social media chatter that she had left the traveling city hall meeting early before hearing the concerns of the citizens. Mosby said she had a prior engagement at 6 p.m. that night but stayed as long as she could. Mosby also pointed to the numerous neighborhood and government board meetings that she regularly attends.

Many in the crowd, including Memorial Baptist Church led pastor, Rev. Adrian Brooks, believe the city should get involved in the situation at Lincoln Estates because of its moral and ethical obligations.

"I hear people talk about, 'well, that's the open market system at work,' but there is a certain thing called compassion,"  Rev. Brooks said. "We understand that [it's a private business] but there are some lives of very vulnerable people and poor folks that we need to find a better way to respond to."

Mosby said she empathizes with those who face an uncertain future. However, as the leader of the city's chief fiscal body, Mosby said she has the fiduciary responsibility to make sure the money is spent wisely. There's also the concern of setting a precedent, she said.

"The mere concept is really alarming to me because it would be setting a terrible precedent for anything in the future because every day there are people who are getting displaced from their current rental situation," Mosby said. "If we do it for this project then we have to look at every other project for low income families. I just don't see how we have that money. I'm just really not sure that the funding [in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund] is really supposed to be used for [moving expenses]."

The city might not have enough time either, Mosby said. Such a plan would require City Council to approve of a finance ordinance presented by the City Controller's office. Because the council doesn't meet again until June 12th, a special meeting would have to be called by either the mayor or Mosby.

In order for a special meeting to be called, a public notice must be publicized 48 ahead of the meeting date. Therefore, if the meeting were to be announced on Friday, the soonest it could be held would be either May 30th or 31st because of the Memorial Day holiday. Assuming the Council approves of the transfer of $100,000, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board would have to call its own meeting. According to long established state laws, another 48 hours notice must be followed, making the earliest possible meeting date to be June 2nd or 3rd.

If the Affordable Housing Trust Fund board were to approve of the measure, the city's legal department would have to draft, sign and present a contract to the Board of Public Works. The contract would be between the City and the granting agency, which would be tasked with verifying incomes, compiling paperwork and assisting with new housing applications. If the Board of Public Works is required to meet in a special session to approve the contract, another 48 hour notice must be given, according to state law.

By the time the money finally becomes available, it could be on June 7th. The residents have to leave Lincoln Estates by June 8th.

Mayor Winnecke said he, Rev. Brooks and Councilwoman Connie Robinson will try to persuade the complex's new owners to push back the move-out dates. However, at this point, it's unclear if the owners are willing to accommodate that request.

Mosby said her opinion and concerns about the proposal wouldn't change if Lincoln Estates were in the Second Ward.

"As [Council] president, I have to take that hat off sometimes. It's hard any way you slice this because there are families that are being displaced," Mosby said. "But I have to realize that this happens every day and every day are we going to be able to help those families in need? We don't have a money tree."

Mosby also addressed the comparison that many are making between the situation at Lincoln Estates and the city's involvement in the relocation of 18 tenants of rental units that were impacted by D-Patrick's move to Walnut and Highway 41. Mosby believes the two situations are different.

D-Patrick was asked to move to a new location so the city could use the property at the dealership's former location as part of the IU Medical School. Because the city was directly involved in the dealership's move, it allocated $20,000 in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help residents find new places to live. D-Patrick would later reimburse the city the full amount. Mosby said the Lincoln Estates situation doesn't involve the city at all because it's a private business matter.

Ownership and management of Lincoln Estates did not return calls for comment.

***

The conditions of another income-based housing complex was also mentioned at Wednesday night's meeting. Many citizens alleged poor living conditions at the privately-owned Woodland Park Apartments on Sunburst Boulevard. Management tells Eyewiteness News that the company is working with the building commission and other city leaders to improve the property but refused to elaborate. 

According to Vanderburgh County Central Dispatch, there have been more than 1300 emergency runs dispatched to the complex since the beginning of 2016. That's roughly 2.5 calls for police, fire or medical services a day.

This story was originally published on May 25th, 2017.


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