By Bill Slocum
A 30-month-long disagreement between the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Greenwich Housing Authority over control of Parsonage Cottage appears on the verge of resolution, following a tentative agreement at a special meeting Tuesday.
The agreement allows the Authority to pay off under more advantageous terms the remainder of a million-dollar town loan used in purchasing a 99-year lease from the town for Parsonage Cottage, a senior residence housing some 40 low- and moderate-income tenants. In exchange, the Authority would waive a potentially onerous management fee against the town and provide a detailed, 27-year capital improvement plan for Parsonage Cottage’s upkeep.
“I think we’ve made substantial progress,” said Mary Lee Kiernan, co-chair of a BET subcommittee, the Parsonage Cottage Working Group, which held the meeting.
“This was our most productive meeting so far,” Housing Authority Commissioner George Yankowich agreed. “They understand us better each time we meet.”
A significant potential stumbling block remains in the form of a second, smaller loan, which the Housing Authority maintains is not a loan at all but a Community Development Block Grant reconstructed into a loan. This was done in order to secure advantageous debt terms for private partners to the original lease agreement who have since been bought out. The Housing Authority is asking that the CDBG debt, today estimated at around $373,000, be forgiven.
The Housing Authority was supported in their request by Alma Rutgers, chair of the Community Development Advisory Committee. Rutgers said forgiveness was something her committee agreed in 2013 would be the best use of the money, as Parsonage Cottage services a public need.
“In fact, they have already paid back what the grant was originally, both with interest and principal, which was $675,000,” Rutgers says.
At the Working Group meeting, two of the four BET members on the panel expressed support for the forgiveness idea, while the other two expressed concern about the impact of wholesale forgiveness on the rest of the town Community Development Block Grant program, which makes use of interest payments from the Authority in servicing other agencies.
“We will try to meet again next Monday to come to a consensus we can bring before the full BET,” Working Group co-chair Bill Johnson said. “It’s come down to the issue of whether the CDBG loan be forgiven or financed in some way.”
At Tuesday’s Working Group meeting, both sides worked at identifying areas of apparent misunderstanding. For example, group members seemed to accept the contention of Housing Authority Executive Director Anthony L. Johnson that notification to the town by the Authority in 2013 regarding the departure of the private partners was not required, as the departure terms were laid out in the original agreement.
“What was obvious to you was not as obvious to the town,” BET Working Group member Bill Finger noted in accepting Johnson’s contention.
Similarly, the Housing Authority’s objection to being required to report expenditures to Parsonage Cottage via the town’s Capital Improvement Plan was explained as an issue of semantics by Working Group members, who said they only wanted to be kept informed about work done on Parsonage Cottage as a town property, and were not seeking deeper oversight into the management of the Housing Authority.