HUD scrutinizes subsidized units in Fields Corner

Under new leadership just last month, the Fields Corner Community Development Corporation (CDC) has been taking home failing grades on its federal report card for the last two years, the Reporter has learned.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reviews all the properties it subsidizes each year, grading how well they are maintained on a scale of 1 to 100. Properties graded in the 90 to 100 range are considered high performers. Those below 60 are designated "troubled."

One of two groups of properties HUD subsidizes for the Fields Corner CDC took home a dismal score of 52, up from 44 in 2007's inspection.

The consecutive low scores trigger a HUD review that could take the properties out of the the CDC's management portfolio, terminate its Section 8 contract, or turn the properties over to another owner, all of which could be financially crippling for a non-profit that is already struggling to keep up with maintenance costs.

The review could also leave the property in the CDC's hands if improvements in maintenance are found.

"HUD protocols require that we take action on properties receiving consecutive below 60 scores by developing a Compliance, Disposition, and Enforcement (CDE) plan," wrote HUD's regional deputy director Kristine Foye in an e-mail. "In developing the plan, we look at not only the physical condition but also the financial issues, management reviews and tenant complaints."

Fields Corner CDC interim director Joe McPherson said the poor scores had nothing to do with the recent retirement of long-time director Jane Matheson. To discover some of the root problems, the CDC's staff distributed a survey to residents to find complaints but those that came back had mostly positive things to say, McPherson said.

A cursory survey by the Reporter of over a half-dozen residents also produced high marks for the CDC.

"For the most part they're really on point with the maintenance," said Rosalind Smith, a Geneva Ave. resident. "You get locked out at three in the morning and they're there."

Well over 150 people live in 67 units spread out in the seven buildings of the "Fields Corner Granites" which are spread throughout the Fields Corner area on Geneva Avenue, Charles Street, Rossetter Street and Bowdoin Avenue.

"We have some fairly old buildings," said McPherson "We use the inspections as a tool to keep the buildings in shape. The interesting thing is each inspector is a little bit different, but they pick up on things we need to do something about."

McPherson identified some of those things as the need for new carpets, new cabinets and better wiring for cable TV in some of the units, as well as paint and masonry repointing on some of the buildings' exteriors.

"We're trying to do better upkeep," he said. "It should be better, we are a non-profit that has a responsibility to our residents. It's easy after a lot of years to kind of have old eyes when doing inspections."

HUD never gives precise dates for their inspections ahead of time, and Foye would not say when any final decisions might be made. But McPherson said he expects another HUD inspection sometime this spring.

"Right now you can think of it as a negotiation, in which we are working to bring the property into compliance while still protecting the tenants who live there," wrote Foye. "It is possible that the CDC will be able to continue managing the property, but it must meet certain conditions. No definitive timelines have been set."