ONEONTA – RSS didn’t get the state funding for its controversial Riverside Apartments, but that doesn’t mean it’s giving up.
The state Office of Homes & Community Renewal didn’t approve the 64-unit complex for low-income housing, but Altamont-based Rehabilitation Support Services still plans to move forward, said Ed Butz, RSS managing director.
“There are many more applications than there is funding available,” he said. “It’s not un-typical. We plan to meet with HCR and get more advisement, then submit for the next round.”
In the meantime, residents of the Sixth Ward Neighbors United are breathing a sigh of relief.
ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig today said he’s not surprised the state rejected Rehabilitation Support Services’ application for low-income housing funds for an affordable housing development project in the Sixth Ward.
“Oneonta does need affordable funding,” he said, “but, unfortunately, the way RSS went about it was not the right way.”
RSS’ plan sparked controversy last October when Sixth Ward residents and business owners abruptly learned the organization had developed a site plan to build 64 affordable units, with 14 for people in recovery from substance addiction.
ONEONTA – Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, who represents Oneonta, has told local foes of Riverside Apartments that the state has denied funding to RSS’ 64-unit housing project at River and Duane streets, according to an email from Donna Harmer to fellow members of Sixth Ward Neighbors United.
The individuals comprising the Sixth Ward Neighbors United are clearly not willing to be neighbors
to persons with psychiatric disorders who need housing assistance.
The Neighbors claim that they want full investigation of Rehabilitation Support Services (RSS) for financial improprieties prior to approval of applications for low-income housing for mentally ill residents.
I was disappointed to read the innuendo and implications in the May 1 story, “Sixth Ward Neighbors Complain to Seward About RSS’s Record.” As we celebrate our 40th year in existence – including more than 30 years in Oneonta and Otsego County – Rehabilitation Support Services is exceedingly proud of its sterling record of providing essential programs and services that have enriched the lives of families, friends and neighbors in our community for decades.
No organization would last a year, let alone 40 years, without a clear and consistent record of strong financial policies, procedures, controls and management. This is particularly true for an organization such as RSS, which receives public funding to ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals and families. As such, we are subject to, and welcome, regular financial audits – and through dozens of audits conducted over the past 40 years, the conclusion reached time after time is that public dollars under our stewardship are well spent.
Citing just one such audit, conducted by the state Comptroller’s Office into state’s Supported Housing Program, does readers a disservice by ignoring the full scope of our work. In fact, in this case, the state Office of Mental Health, as well as several other nonprofit agencies across the state, joined us in taking issue with a number of the findings and recommendations.
The Supported Housing Program was designed to give agencies flexibility in implementation in an effort to provide the highest level of service. As a result, guidance was general in nature and non-specific in many cases. The audit itself reviewed a mere 60 of the thousands of budget transactions contained in the program, and we strongly refute the observations cited in the story, including:
An off-site retreat intended to educate board members is not entertainment – it is a vital part of ensuring that RSS is prepared to address the increasing complexities of doing business in New York State;
Recognizing community leaders who share their time and expertise with our clients with small honoraria (a plaque, a bouquet of flowers) is not only the right thing to do, it is allowable under program guidelines;
We regularly follow established procurement policies in regards to purchases, including competitively bid contracts. The instances cited in the audit were either not subject to bidding requirements, or required special expertise that results in cost savings in the long run;
Retaining staff motivated to work for low wages requires an organizational culture that reinforces, on a daily basis, that employees are valued. Providing low-cost refreshments (coffee and water) and recognition (an employee-of-the-month gift card) are reasonable approaches to do this; and
There is firm documentation that gift cards provided to clients to help them live independently were used appropriately, even as there is no specific guidance on this procedure.
Not reported in the story, which cites funds that comprise less than .01 percent of the total RSS budget, was that the same audit demonstrated that RSS provides a high level of service to our clients. Also not reported was the final outcome of the audit: There were no disallowed expenditures, and no requests for reimbursement, for any of the items cited.
Finally, it is important to directly address two points in the story.
First, regarding state funding that would be used for this project: if it is not spent in Oneonta, it will instead be utilized for similar projects elsewhere in the state – to lose that funding is to lose a golden opportunity to support our community.
Second, RSS has and continues to be transparent about this project. We have presented plans publicly before the city planning commission on multiple occasions, met regularly with elected officials, community leaders and others, addressed media questions, and set up a public website, www.riversideoneonta.com, with specific plans and related documents. As our great U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
No one would disagree that affordable housing is badly needed in Oneonta. Similarly, among the thousands of people and organizations we have worked with for decades in Oneonta and beyond, none would disagree that RSS is the right organization to take on this important project.
For more than 30 years, Rehabilitation Support Services has been an
active and committed community partner and service provider in the City of Oneonta and Otsego County.
If you’ve had a bagel and coffee at the Oneonta Bagel Company, received job assistance through Supported Employment, or information through our Community Education Project, you know RSS.
We are proud to have built many longstanding and productive relationships in Oneonta, as well as a proven record of delivering successful programs to address critical community needs. For those reasons, it has been discouraging to read a number of misrepresentations regarding our planned Riverside Apartments project on River Street.
ONEONTA – In response to the formation of “Sixth Ward Neighbors United,” LEAF Executive Director Julie Dostal said there are “misconceptions” about the proposed Rehabilitation & Support Services housing development and the 14 units set aside for people in addiction recovery.
“Those people get to move into those units because they have engaged in a treatment or recovery provider to qualify for housing,” she said. “They have already made a life decision toward getting better.”
ONEONTA – Christened “Sixth Ward Neighbors United,” River Street residents and businesspeople met for more than two hours with city, county and state elected officials at the Sixth Ward Athletic Club Thursday evening to discuss strategies to oppose RSS’s housing development in their neighborhood.
“There are multiple bad reasons for RSS’s project,” said Fran Colone, a vocal critic of the housing development proposal since last October. “So, we’re turning up the heat and upping our activities.”
“It is bad for Oneonta’s economy, it’s bad in terms of energy services – Oneonta is already energy-strapped; it’s going to increase demand for services here. Oneonta’s fire department is already understaffed,” Colone said.