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Ogdensburg council complains about confusion, poor communication in housing program

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City Council members hate being surprised at public meetings — even more so when the surprises are related to the problematic Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

When they were told Monday night that there were two new eligible buyers for the program house at 2 Grove St., which recently had a sale fall through, several council members expressed exasperation.

“There were other applicants we weren’t aware of,” Councilor Jennifer Stevenson said. “We should have been told about this.”

Earlier this year, James A. O’Neill, president of C.W. Augustine of DeKalb Junction, told council members that a required lottery system to sell Neighborhood Stabilization Program houses was bypassed because each house had only one interested buyer. C.W. Augustine was contracted in 2010 to administer the city’s housing programs.

Andrea L. Smith, interim city planner, said 2 Grove St. indeed had other interested buyers, but they had not met the program’s eligibility requirements for home buyer education and income when the property’s original $42,000 sale, to Barbara and Terry Thomas, was arranged.

“The two new applicants that we spoke of only became eligible in May,” she said.

The 2 Grove St. sale has since fallen through, Ms. Smith said, because the original buyers no longer qualify for the program.

“The housing finance agency did not approve their application,” she said.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program requires that families qualify on an income basis and be an appropriate size to occupy the property. The council put the lottery system in place to ensure that each property, sold at reduced prices, would be sold to a buyer selected in a fair manner.

Council members are still upset they weren’t kept informed on the program, especially after problems with it led to the resignation of one city official and the firing of another.

“Apparently we have prospective buyers in a lottery that didn’t exist last year,” Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley said. “I saw no advertisements for a new lottery.”

Councilor Wayne L. Ashley said Mr. O’Neill failed to notify the council about the state of the program and the property sales.

“The council wasn’t adequately informed of any of this. We need to get to the bottom of this at the next council meeting to figure out what exactly transpired,” he said.

The house will be entered back into the lottery system and sold, Mr. Morley said.

“I want it sold to get it out from under us,” he said. “We need to get it on the tax rolls and stop paying for heat and light in the building.”

The sale of another Neighborhood Stabilization Program house at 819 Knox St. will close in early October, Ms. Smith said.

The City Council has yet to determine the fate of its relationship with C.W. Augustine. Ogdensburg considered firing the company in June before giving it support to write a 2012 Community Development Block Grant application. The firm later declined to write and administer the grant this summer, weeks before the deadline, prompting the city to contract with the Development Authority of the North Country. Interim City Manager Philip A. Cosmo was to send out requests for proposals for a new housing program administrator in the meantime, Ms. Stevenson said.

“What we had discussed is that we would send out some RFPs to see who was interested in administering the program, and we need to coordinate that with our grant with DANC,” she said.

Mr. Cosmo said he still hasn’t done so, leaving questions about program’s future to linger.

“I have not done the request for proposals,” he said. “We’re still looking at the process for determining a format for the request.”

Meanwhile, the city waits for the properties to sell to determine the future of its Neighborhood Stabilization Program. At least one rehabilitation project in the program, 113 Adams Ave., remains to be completed, but the program doesn’t have enough funds to finish the work.

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