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NEMAH lays off staff; future in doubt

January 17, 2014
Jordan Travis - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

Northeast Michigan Affordable Housing, Inc.'s future is in doubt, as its staff has been laid off and other groups are stepping in to assist with government housing programs in its service area.

In Presque Isle County, county commissioners learned at a recent meeting that NEMAH's staff had been laid off in mid-January. The organization had been suspended by the state from administering housing grants, and without the grants' administrative portions NEMAH had no way to pay its employees.

Board Chairman Carl Altman and Vice Chairman Bob Schell told commissioners about a conference call with NEMAH board President Ann Denis. She told them about the layoffs and situation with the state, and that an audit firm will review the organization's finances. County Treasurer Bridget LaLonde added Northern Homes Community Development Corporation will handle foreclosure intervention for Presque Isle County residents for the time being.

"There's a meeting scheduled between NEMAH and (Northeast Michigan Council of Governments) next week," Schell said after the meeting. "They're going to have a meeting with (Denis) to see what they can do to revive the program. As far as we know, NEMAH will for all practical purposes be dissolved, and their programs will be picked up by some other agency, I'm sure."

Founded in 2000, NEMAH tapped several government housing programs, including those from Michigan State Housing Development Authority and federal Housing and Urban Development, according to its website. Its employees provided foreclosure intervention counseling, and could help homeowners apply for home improvement program grants, among other services.

Now, county officials are waiting to find out what will happen to around $80,000 in NEMAH grant money deposited with the county, Schell said. It's from home improvement program grants, and Schell said he hopes the money can be rolled over into a new program for the same purpose.

That's not to mention the back rent owed to Presque Isle County. Schell said county officials knew NEMAH had been having financial difficulties before, and had arranged to let the organization delay payment on rent for its office in the Presque Isle County Courthouse.

The organization last paid rent for that office in January 2013, and owes $4,598, according to County Clerk Ann Marie Main.

NEMAH is a third-party administrator for certain MSHDA programs and grants, and the state agency has been helping the local organization resolve some federal funds regulation compliance issues since November, MSHDA Communications Director Mary Lou Keenon said. She acknowledged NEMAH had been suspended by the agency from handling the grants, but said it was "a pretty much benign situation."

"When you're dealing with federal funds, there are regulations that need to be followed," she said. "They needed help to get back into compliance with those regulations."

For those in need of foreclosure intervention, Northern Homes Community Development Corporation is here to help. Amy Rozycki, Northern Homes' foreclosure prevention advocate and AmeriCORPS staff member, said the organization is stepping in temporarily for Alcona, Alpena, Iosco, Montmorency and Presque Isle county residents. Homeowners in those counties facing tax or mortgage foreclosure should call her right away at 231-582-6496.

Northern Homes typically handles housing issues in Northwest Michigan counties, including Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Crawford and Otsego, Rozycki said. Another agency located to the south of NEMAH's former service area could be taking over in Northeast Michigan.

"We're already up and running, and we have certified counselors, so they're sending people to us while this transitional period is happening," she said.

Questions remain as to why NEMAH folded like it did, and who will step in. Altman and Schell recalled some anecdotes they'd heard, but admitted they could only speculate.

"People who worked out of the Rogers City office said they hadn't even been paid in some time," Altman said. "The question came up: why, what's going on, and then there was, again, talk that something was going on."

Denis didn't return messages from The News as of press time.

Either way, the organization offered important services for Presque Isle County residents, Schell said.

One former employee started her own organization when she learned of NEMAH's situation with MSHDA. Lee Ann Fischer started Housing Consulting Services, LLC after learning of a letter sent to NEMAH by MSHDA detailing the grant troubles.

Fischer was senior program manager at NEMAH's West Branch office until she was laid off Wednesday. Her new company is contracting with Arenac and Ogemaw counties to handle home improvement programs, she said.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball's Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.

 
 

 

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