Funding Issues Surround Affordable Housing Project
BERLIN - Questions and suspicions over the Cannery Village workforce housing project arose Monday night during what appeared to be a routine meeting over a block grant.
At this week's meeting, the Berlin Mayor and Council questioned Don Bibb, executive director of project co-developer Housing Authority of Talbot County (HCTC), closely over the apparently diminished role of the New Beginning Covenant Ministries Church in the workforce housing effort and his own compensation.
While the church originally applied for the grant, the actual developer was changed because the church does not have the ability to secure the rest of the financing, according to Bibb.
That did not sit well with Councilman Elroy Brittingham.
'That really worries me. The more you come up here, the less the church is involved,' said Brittingham.
The last time he asked about Pastor Daryl Butts' involvement, Brittingham said he was told the pastor was too busy.
'If this were my church and they were using my name, I wouldn't be too busy to be on the committee,' Brittingham said.
New Beginning Covenant Ministries does have representation on the board of the Berlin Community Development Corporation (BCDC), Bibb said.
'The church is still involved with this project,' he said. 'That relationship has stayed ongoing.'
Butts could not be reached for comment.
The HCTC was brought in as a full partner in the project to secure loan funds.
'We needed an entity which had a history of building homes and getting financing,' said Bibb.
HCTC built a 12-home workforce housing project in Easton with completion in 2002.
'We're talking about a $5 million loan,' Bibb said. 'It was agreed last year it would be a co-developed project.'
The church has reached out for help, said Ed White, the project's block grant consultant.
'We're securing the financing for the project,' Bibb said.
Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale questioned why Brittingham, as head of the town's affordable housing committee, was not kept better informed of project developments.
'I feel like he should be kept better informed,' Cardinale said. He added, 'I'm not pointing fingers.'
The Cannery Village project has been in the planning process for two and a half years, but, said Cardinale, Brittingham has only gotten one letter.
'Clearly, we need to open up a more direct dialogue,' Bibb said.
Council member Paula Lynch also raised the question of Bibb's payment for participation in the project.
Bibb confirmed that he had been brought in as a consultant on the project three years ago. He explained later that there had been a compensation agreement between the BCDC, HCTC and himself for his consulting work.
He said he has not yet received any money for his work on behalf of HCTC as co-developer.
'There's been no payment to me,' Bibb said. 'If I can't secure those finances, I don't get paid.'
Bibb does still work with the BCDC as a consultant, he said, but he and HCTC track any time out of the normal working day that he spends on that pursuit, and he compensates the commission.
'I'm not double dipping here,' Bibb said. 'I was taken aback by the inference. We're an up and up organization.'
There is no conflict of interest, Bibb said, in response to another question from Lynch.
Before construction can begin, the project plat must be approved. Bibb said he anticipates approval in May, which will trigger the infrastructure installation.
'So you're going to start moving dirt in June?' asked Lynch.
'I'm keeping my fingers crossed,' Bibb said.
'I'm hopeful,' said White.
Several documents must be in hand before any grant money can be transferred, said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary, including a written agreement allocating the sewer service for the first 10 houses, a letter of good standing for the church and the transfer of the property to the developers.
There are a lot of things that need to be resolved before the property can be transferred, she said.
'It actually pretty much has been resolved,' said Bibb.
Cardinale said, 'I think that transfer of property should take place now.'
The plat must be recorded first, Bibb said
Berlin, as the official recipient of the Community Development Block Grant, will reimburse the project $310,000 for infrastructure construction once the work is completed to the town's satisfaction. That money must be spent by the end of October.The new workforce subdivision will eventually include 51 houses, with 41 sold as affordable housing, and 10 at market rate. The houses will be built in sets of 10.