Bill takes aim at state's housing commission

Monday, March 7, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A bill in the state House would require some major changes for the Missouri Housing Development Commission.

The measure, sponsored by Rules Committee Chairman Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, would require the commission to close its offices in Kansas City and St. Louis and move its employees to Jefferson City. It would also require the commission's executive director to live within 40 miles of Jefferson City, according to The Columbia Daily Tribune.

In addition, pending amendments would include the commission in the formal state budget for the first time and force the commission to turn over to the state an undetermined portion of its $384 million in cash assets.

"Right now it is completely funded within its own organization with no accountability on who they hire or what employees are doing on taxpayer money," Diehl said.

Executive Director Margaret Linesberry said that because of the bill the commission has abandoned plans to spend $4.8 million for a building in the Plaza section of Kansas City. But she said the agency is not opposing the legislation.

"This agency will respond to the will of the General Assembly. That is our obligation, and we will fulfill that obligation," she said.

The commission is responsible for creating and improving housing for low- and middle-income Missourians. It distributes federal home repair funds, issues state and federal tax credits to support construction and underwrites mortgages. It had a net income of $36.1 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, up 39.4 percent over fiscal 2009.

The commission had $661.7 million in net assets, including $384.5 million in cash and temporary investments, as of Dec. 31, according to a financial report given to commissioners at their February meeting.

House Budget Committee member Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the commission's cash is attractive in tough budget times.

How much money can be taken from the commission without hurting it "is the number we are all interested in and working at," Kelly said.

Diehl said he filed the bill in part because of the plans to buy the building in Kansas City. He said the state has plenty of unused office space and it's not a good idea to buy more.

He said proposals to make the commission subject to appropriations and to take part of its cash were spurred in part by the commission's refusal to hear comments from Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, during its Feb. 18 meeting.

A minority of commission members kept Schaefer from speaking at the Feb. 18 meeting. When that was followed by a vote to only issue a portion of the tax credits available to support construction this year, it fueled the criticism.

When no one from the commission was on hand for the hearing on Diehl's bill, determination to put it under the control of the General Assembly intensified.

Missing the committee hearing was a mistake, Linesberry said. Both staff members assigned to watch bills dealing with commission business missed the notice, she said.

Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune,

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