Housing Resources chief O’Neill to leave; some have praise, but not in Copake
HUDSON—Kevin O’Neill, the man in charge at Housing Resources of Columbia County, Inc., for the past 16 years, is moving on.
Mr. O’Neill confirmed this week that he is no longer executive director, but is sticking around for “a couple of months” to assist with the transition, as Deputy Executive Director Stephanie Lane takes on the top spot at Housing Resources, a private not-for-profit organization that has assisted residents with housing needs since 1984.
Mr. O’Neill told The Columbia Paper the reason for his exit is that Housing Resources will “not be doing a whole lot of real estate development in the next couple of years—and that’s what I do.”
Housing Resources Board of Directors President David Pearce confirmed Mr. O’Neill’s imminent departure by phone and said a press release on the subject was sent to the media last week. The Columbia Paper still had not received the release by press time yesterday, but did get a copy of a July 26 letter sent by Mr. Pearce to Michael Scutieri, the mayor of the Village of Millerton, where Housing Resources is currently in the process of developing an affordable housing project.
The Pearce letter informs the mayor that Mr. O’Neill has been replaced and talks about the drastic change in the housing industry over the past two years.
“In this difficult economic time, Housing Resources is redefining its goals as an agency while staying true to our mission… Affordable housing development will not be a major focus for the organization in the near future” though the agency “expects to continue to work toward the success of our current developments in Chatham and Millerton,” Mr. Pearce says in the letter.
The “change in leadership” decision was mutually agreed upon by the Housing Resources board and Mr. O’Neill, according to the letter, which calls the move “appropriate.”
Asked specifically in a phone interview Wednesday if Mr. O’Neill is the subject of any investigation based on allegations of wrongdoing, Mr. Pearce said, “Not at all. I have no knowledge of that, no indication of that and I’m pretty knowledgeable on the whole subject of the reason for him leaving. It has nothing to do with that.”
Mr. Pearce acknowledged rumors about the reasons for Mr. O’Neill’s departure and said, “a lot of people for various reasons—misinformation or self-interest—are doing and saying all kinds of things.”
Mr. O’Neill’s work is chronicled and praised in the Pearce letter, which notes that he “built the agency up from a 2-person operation, managing 16 apartments, to a staff of 10, managing several dozen properties.”
It mentions that Mr. O’Neill “encouraged the organization to complete several ambitious revitalization projects, including a complete transformation of a block of North Fifth Street in Hudson in 2001, where 10 properties, including 2 troublesome bars, were converted into administrative and counseling offices for Twin County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, a furniture restoration workshop and several apartments.”
One project that Mr. O’Neill was not able to complete—to the relief of many in Copake—was Copake Green, a controversial proposal by Housing Resources to build a 138-unit senior- and mixed-income housing development in the 122-acre cornfield between the back of the hamlet and the Town Hall.
Due to a lack of funding to move the project forward, the agricultural property, which Housing Resources purchased in 2004 for $650,000 from Odyssey Farm South, Inc., went on the real estate market in April for $1.2 million.
The Copake Green project first came before the Planning Board in December 2005, but languished in the planning stages for two and a half years until Mr. O’Neill reappeared before the board in June 2009 to assure the town his agency was ready to pick up where it left off.
But that never happened.
By March 2007, news had surfaced about financial difficulties at Housing Resources—an unfavorable audit and embezzlement by an employee—and more recently the agency’s inability to secure loans to pay pre-development costs and failure to pay overdue water and sewer bills for its properties in the City of Hudson.
Mr. O’Neill told The Columbia Paper in an April 8 story about the decision to sell the property that Copake Green was an “ambitious endeavor to meet the local housing demand for family and senior home ownership.” He said his agency had invested $1.5 million in project engineering and development costs, including drilling two wells on the property.
Hudson Mayor Richard Scalera, who has worked with Mr. O’Neill on housing projects in the city since 1994, said by phone this week that Housing Resources has been “extremely important to the city” for its revitalization projects that turned many properties into affordable housing units thanks to Mr. O’Neill’s “hard work.
“I wish him the best,” said the mayor.
Asked about the status of the substantial sum of money Housing Resources’ owes the city for unpaid water and sewer bills, Mayor Scalera said as far as he knows they remain outstanding.
The mayor said there is no doubt he would have been notified if the bills had been paid and “we would be popping the cork on a bottle of champagne.”
According to information from the city Public Works Department, Housing Resources owes $16,532.06 in current bills. In overdue bills, the amount owed is about $22,000 without penalty charges, according to the City Treasurer’s Office.
Ms. Lane, who will take over the executive director post, has been with Housing Resources since January 2009. She previously worked in Rensselaer County for the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP), where she was a senior housing counselor for five years.
“Since joining HRCC, Ms. Lane assumed much of the day-to-day management of the agency. She has strong business management skills and is uniquely suited to lead the organization forward,” according to Mr. Pearce’s letter.
As for what his future holds, Mr. O’Neill says he plans to do “some consulting work and some writing.”
To contact Diane Valden email .