Funding Issues Surround Affordable Housing Project

BERLIN
– Questions and suspicions over the Cannery Village workforce housing project
arose Monday night during what appeared to be a routine meeting over a block
grant.

At
this week’s meeting, the Berlin Mayor and Council questioned Don Bibb,
executive director of project co-developer Housing Authority of Talbot County
(HCTC), closely over the apparently diminished role of the New Beginning
Covenant Ministries Church in the workforce housing effort and his own
compensation.

While
the church originally applied for the grant, the actual developer was changed
because the church does not have the ability to secure the rest of the
financing, according to Bibb.

That
did not sit well with Councilman Elroy Brittingham.

“That
really worries me. The more you come up here, the less the church is involved,”
said Brittingham.

The
last time he asked about Pastor Daryl Butts’ involvement, Brittingham said he
was told the pastor was too busy.

“If this
were my church and they were using my name, I wouldn’t be too busy to be on the
committee,” Brittingham said.

New
Beginning Covenant Ministries does have representation on the board of the
Berlin Community Development Corporation (BCDC), Bibb said.

“The
church is still involved with this project,” he said. “That relationship has
stayed ongoing.”

Butts
could not be reached for comment.

The
HCTC was brought in as a full partner in the project to secure loan funds.

“We
needed an entity which had a history of building homes and getting financing,”
said Bibb.

HCTC
built a 12-home workforce housing project in Easton with completion in 2002.

“We’re
talking about a $5 million loan,” Bibb said. “It was agreed last year it would
be a co-developed project.”

The
church has reached out for help, said Ed White, the project’s block grant
consultant.

“We’re
securing the financing for the project,” Bibb said.

Berlin
Mayor Tom Cardinale questioned why Brittingham, as head of the town’s
affordable housing committee, was not kept better informed of project
developments.

“I
feel like he should be kept better informed,” Cardinale said. He added, “I’m
not pointing fingers.”

The
Cannery Village project has been in the planning process for two and a half
years, but, said Cardinale, Brittingham has only gotten one letter.

“Clearly,
we need to open up a more direct dialogue,” Bibb said.

Council
member Paula Lynch also raised the question of Bibb’s payment for participation
in the project.

Bibb
confirmed that he had been brought in as a consultant on the project three
years ago. He explained later that there had been a compensation agreement
between the BCDC, HCTC and himself for his consulting work.

He
said he has not yet received any money for his work on behalf of HCTC as
co-developer.

“There’s
been no payment to me,” Bibb said. “If I can’t secure those finances, I don’t
get paid.”

Bibb
does still work with the BCDC as a consultant, he said, but he and HCTC track
any time out of the normal working day that he spends on that pursuit, and he
compensates the commission.

“I’m
not double dipping here,” Bibb said. “I was taken aback by the inference. We’re
an up and up organization.”

There
is no conflict of interest, Bibb said, in response to another question from
Lynch.

Before
construction can begin, the project plat must be approved. Bibb said he
anticipates approval in May, which will trigger the infrastructure
installation.

“So
you’re going to start moving dirt in June?” asked Lynch.

“I’m
keeping my fingers crossed,” Bibb said.

“I’m
hopeful,” said White.

Several
documents must be in hand before any grant money can be transferred, said
Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary, including a written agreement
allocating the sewer service for the first 10 houses, a letter of good standing
for the church and the transfer of the property to the developers.

There
are a lot of things that need to be resolved before the property can be
transferred, she said.

“It
actually pretty much has been resolved,” said Bibb.

Cardinale
said, “I think that transfer of property should take place now.”

The
plat must be recorded first, Bibb said

Berlin,
as the official recipient of the Community Development Block Grant, will
reimburse the project $310,000 for infrastructure construction once the work is
completed to the town’s satisfaction. That money must be spent by the end of
October.

The new workforce
subdivision will eventually include 51 houses, with 41 sold as affordable
housing, and 10 at market rate. The houses will be built in sets of 10. 

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