The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 in a special called meeting Tuesday to allow Home Development Resources Inc. to administer a federal housing grant.
The vote was the third for the commission. At their last board meeting, commissioners voted and then re-voted the issue, both times voting by a narrow 3-2 margin for Habitat for Humanity to administer the $2.3 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant.
The Neighborhood Stabilization Program allows local governments to purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed residential property for resale to families in an effort to stabilize neighborhoods.
At the commission’s July 9 board meeting, Commissioner Ashley Bell proposed granting the bid to Habitat for Humanity, the second bidder. Hall County Purchasing Department staff recommended awarding it to Home Development Resources Inc. due to the specificity of their plan for the grant.
Bell and Commissioners Bobby Banks and Billy Powell voted to award the bid to administer the grant to Habitat for Humanity. Tom Oliver and Steve Gailey voted in favor of following the staff recommendation to go with Home Development Resources Inc.
The commissioners agreed that a lack of information was to blame for the multiple votes. They did not realize that a request for proposal was part of the grant process.
“We have some additional information that was not presented to us Thursday. It’s a two-edged situation with this commission in that we have the ability to revisit some issues which we should have been prepared to do Thursday. In our defense, it was not presented to us at the work session,” Oliver said.
At the March 26 board meeting, the commission voted to allow Home Development Resources Inc. to write and administer the Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant.
“When I found out everything we voted in March, if staff had presented that on Thursday night, we wouldn’t be here,” Banks said.
Bill Andrew, president of the board for Home Development Resources Inc. and city manager of Flowery Branch, said this is the first time he’s seen a bidding process to administer a housing grant.
“HDRI has been providing a service and has been staffing to provide that service to the county for over a decade. We are the ones that identified the grant being available,” Andrew said. “You wouldn’t ask Keep Hall Beautiful to put in an application every year to continue being Keep Hall Beautiful ... It’s been an arrangement we’ve had with the county for 10 years.”
Andrew said he believes the grant can best be administered by Home Development Resources Inc.
“The application for the grant was structured in a way to basically play to the strengths of HDRI because they were the ones writing the grant,” Andrew said. “We felt that our bid was stronger than Habitat’s bid. We think our experience in this work is deeper. I think Habitat has certain strengths, but I’m not sure they necessarily play to this particular program, but I think they have a role to play in it.”
Andrew said Home Development Resources Inc. would likely use Habitat for Humanity as a contractor, as has been done in the past.
Wes Robinson, a Habitat for Humanity Board member, said he was unhappy with the commission’s decision to grant the bid to Home Development Resources Inc.
“We’re obviously very disappointed in the outcome,” Robinson said. “We thought we could do it efficiently, we thought we could do a great job, we thought we could put more money directly into the homes and therefore put more families in homes and that’s our goal. We thought we’d be the best ones to do that.”
Robinson said because the group uses volunteers, it would be able to work on more homes.
Habitat for Humanity of Hall County’s Executive Director Robb Owens deferred all comments to Robinson, a spokesman for the group.
Bell asked the other commissioners to consider the integrity of the county’s bidding process before voting to give the bid back to Home Development Resources Inc.
“We can’t make this look like we’re giving it to you because you did all the work in the beginning because that completely goes against the competitive process and there’s plenty of folks out here watching this right now who put in bids, who put in proposals, who don’t want to think it takes three votes to get it right,” Bell said. “I would ask this commission to consider letting them table this issue, keep the vote the way it is, let Habitat continue to have this grant and let them work out the details.”
Commissioners Powell, Oliver and Banks voted to award the bid to Home Development Resources Inc. Bell voted to award it to Habitat for Humanity.
Commissioner Steve Gailey was absent.
Andrew said he hopes this experience will be a learning experience.
“I hope we can use this as an opportunity to grow resources for better housing in the community and not a set back,” he said.