Denial of Access to Access Denied: Part V

Collage of young child and sections of a CHA contract for securing vacant units.

In Part III of this series, The View erroneously reported that the CHA had received no responses to the request for proposals issued on June 14, 2002. In fact, it received two responses: from Vacant Property Security (VPS) and Kar-Anne’s Board-up Inc.

On August 20, 2002, the Board of Commissioners authorized the CHA to enter into contracts with VPS and Kar-Anne’s Board-up Inc. for a cumulative amount of $1,500,000. The terms of the contracts are for two years with an option for a third year. Under the contracts, VPS will secure vacant units by means of metal panels, while Kar-Anne’s Board-up Inc. will do so by means of plywood boards.

Several resident leaders were frustrated to learn that Access Denied had formally withdrawn from the bid process. “I wish they’d bid,” one of them remarked. “How can we support them, if they don’t bid?”

After the board meeting, I spoke with Duwain Bailey, CHA’s director of operations. He explained that the contracts just approved were intended for the CHA to use for emergencies and special needs. The CHA, according to Mr. Bailey, expects property managers to allocate sufficient funds for securing vacant units and will leave them free to use the contractor of their choice. This approach, he said, would allow VPS and Access Denied to compete for business at the development level.

On August 21, 2002, the day after the board meeting, Peter Bately and Andrea Brooks of Access Denied went to the offices of IRM Interstate Realty Management Company, which had recently been installed as the manager of the Robert Taylor Homes, to pick up a purchase order number and list of units to be secured under a scope of work they had verbally agreed on. According to Mr. Bately, while they were there, Kevin Collins, the CHA asset manager responsible for the Robert Taylor Homes, appeared and took Sarah Buckner, the property manager, aside. After speaking with Mr. Collins, Ms. Buckner told Mr. Bately and Ms. Brooks that Interstate was not going to use Access Denied. She did not, she said, have to pay for the securing of vacant units, because the CHA has a standing contract with VPS to perform that function.

When I heard about the episode at the Robert Taylor Homes, I contacted Kathyrn Greenberg, who handles “external communications” for the CHA, and requested a written statement outlining the housing authority’s policy on the securing of vacant units. Several days later, after consulting with Mr. Bailey, Ms. Greenberg provided the following statement:

The CHA’s contract for securing vacant properties was competitively awarded on August 20, 2002 by the CHA Board of Commissioners to Vacant Property Security and Kar-Anne’s Board Up. The CHA also requires that the private managers managing CHA properties determine the needs of their properties for the board up of vacant units and buildings and include in their budgets funding for those services. Pursuant to HUD and CHA procurement requirements, the property managers are to independently procure vendors for board-up services. The CHA will use the board up contracts just approved by the Board of Commissioners only if services are needed beyond what was expected and budgeted by the private managers.

It may or may not be relevant that Kevin Collins, until recently the CHA’s asset manager at the Robert Taylor Homes, has a brother, Michael Collins, who works for VPS. The essential point is that the policy articulated by the CHA can only work if it is understood and enforced by CHA field staff.

On December 2, Access Denied returned to the Robert Taylor Homes. IRM Interstate Realty Management had given them a purchase order number for work at 4429 S. Federal, and they had fabricated the materials—31 door panels and 46 window panels—required to do the job. When they arrived at the site, they found that 30 of the 31 units they had come to secure already had VPS panels in place. According to Mr. Bately, Ms. Buckner of Interstate told Access Denied that this was a mistake, that VPS was not supposed to secure those units. She asked for time to clear up the confusion. Two weeks later, she informed Access Denied that she was going to use VPS because the CHA would pay the bill.

This is hardly the fair, open competition that Mr. Bailey promised. When he learned of the situation at Robert Taylor, Mr. Bailey assured Mr. Bately that “Interstate will honor your purchase order.”

Mr. Bailey’s active interest in VPS’s performance under its CHA contracts is welcome. Several questions demand his attention. How is it that work for which the property manager at Robert Taylor had engaged Access Denied was done by VPS? Was this a mistake on the part of VPS? Was it a deliberate effort by VPS to deny business to Access Denied? And if so, how did VPS learn precisely which units Access Denied had been hired to secure?

In either case, it is striking that VPS, whether by accident or design, mobilized to secure those particular units at Robert Taylor, while elsewhere in the neighborhood a building it is contractually obligated to keep secure, 2822 S. Calumet, stood wide open.