The Oak Park village board voted unanimously Monday to reinstate previously withheld 2019 grant funds to the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC). The board had suspended payments to the center after it had failed to turn in its semi-annual and second quarter reports to the village government on time. The board also voted to extend the deadline of the center's 2018 financial audit, required under the 2019 funding grant agreement, until the end of the month.
"It's a small victory," said Athena Williams, OPRHC executive director. "It's not just about getting the money for me or the agency. It's about the establishment and the community." The released 2019 funds will be used to pay the center's bills and its staff.
OPRHC is still facing a potential cut of all its village funding in 2020 as the village board prepares its budget for next year.
"The language in the agreement which is the same as all your traditional partner agencies, it says that you are required to prepare an audit by law, and you have to do it within six months of the end of the fiscal year," said Cara Pavlicek, village manager.
Trustees Jim Taglia and Deno Andrews both said it was reasonable to extend the audit deadline.
Audit results then need to be presented to the village within 30 days of its completion. According to Pavlicek, the center's results should have been presented at the beginning of August.
"I was wondering, have we ever withheld funds from partnering agencies for similar reasons?" asked Trustee Susan Buchanan.
"We haven't had this level of failure of compliance. We have sent out similar letters with other, not partners, but other vendors or contractors of the village or developers when they're out of compliance with agreements that the board has," Pavlicek said. "We'll use the provisions in the agreement to send notice of default to give them formal notice to cure."
Pavlicek said putting down hard deadlines was a "last resort," but staff doesn't have the power to waive deadlines.
"We were told by the housing center that the audit would be delayed. We were told a much earlier date that we'd get it and it wasn't until recently that we learned that the engagement was now starting and so that's why, again, we felt we needed to bring it to the board to grant the waiver because we, as staff, aren't allowed to waive requirements of your agreements," the village manager said.
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla asked Pavlicek to clarify what she meant by "this level of failure of compliance."
"It's not unusual to be a couple weeks late on delivery of audit or agreements," Pavlicek said. According to her most partners do everything on time. Pavlicek, citing the transition of multiple executive and interim executive directors at the housing center during the 12 months, said the village did not receive the response they needed from OPRHC.
"Our role is to be consistently evaluating multiple agreements, whether it's with the partners or vendors for what we contract with people to do, and almost all of those agreements have default provisions," said Pavlicek.
"This wasn't a couple weeks delay; this was a couple months," Pavlicek said. She didn't recall if OPRHC had ever been late to turn in audit results in the past, but she did say she remembers reminding the center to turn them in, which isn't unusual.
Walker-Peddakotla who wasn't at the previous Oct. 28 finance committee meeting during which OPRHC gave a presentation vying for continued village funding for 2020, voiced her support of the center.
"What we're voting on tonight is about the 2019 budget, but we still have the overall question of are we going to fund them in 2020," she said. Walker-Peddakotla also said that maintaining integrated housing, OPRHC's mission, takes effort.
"I think that, as a village, if we say we value integration and we value racial equity, then we shouldn't be putting an organization – the only organization – that really focuses on integration, which is a core value of this village, we shouldn't be putting them in a place where they cannot meet their payroll needs or they cannot actually sustain their business," said Walker-Peddakotla. "What the housing center does is difficult work. It cannot be done by the village. It cannot be done by most other agencies."
Walker-Peddakotla also disagreed that the village is a good partner to OPRHC just because it foots the bills.
"The village, in my opinion, has systematically undermined the housing center by removing the core tenets of the partnership from when it was created," she said.
Walker-Peddakotla said that there used to be a working relationship between the center, village and landlords. According to her, that relationship no longer exists. She also cited a former program the village had that provided loans to landlords for property maintenance.
"In my opinion, we should be funding them fully for 2019 because those funds were already passed by the previous board before I got on and we should be funding them fully for 2020," said Walker-Peddakotla.
The village budget for next year won't be voted on until later this year, so whether the village will continue to fund OPRHC in 2020 remains to be seen.
Post has been edited to fix a typo.
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