FRITZ JEAN, MOUNT HOPES NEW CEO (PHOTO: A WATKINS)
, MOUNT HOPE'S NEW CEO (PHOTO: A WATKINS)
"Over the last three or four years… we took our eyes off the prize, the prize being service to our tenants, and the stability of our buildings," said Fritz Jean, Mount Hope's new CEO, in an interview last month.
"We took our eyes off that and started looking into development.
That is fine, because we have to grow, but it is not fine when we do that at the expense of our existing… portfolio."
took charge in June, replacing Shaun Belle, who had been with the organization 13 years.
According to Jean
, Belle focused on new projects - including the new community center on Townsend Avenue - and didn't give the buildings the attention they needed.
buildings' reserve accounts (money put aside for major improvements, a common real estate industry practice), Jean
said, to help fund Mount Hope's new community center, social services programs, and other projects.
said, despite the organization being told by the Department of Housing Preservation and
Development (HPD), to leave the reserves intact.
"Many of the funding reserves, a good portion of it, was used to trigger new development, and that's a problem," Jean
believes the money went back into Mount Hope
, not people's pockets.
But that hasn't stopped the city's Department of Investigations (DOI), an agency that investigates fraud and corruption, from looking into Mount Hope's finances, and asking for documentation, which Jean said they've provided.
spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was under way.
A Corner Turned?
Jean, a 43-year-old lawyer who lives in Brooklyn and is a childhood friend of Belle's, has made significant changes since becoming president of the board in February and then CEO in June.
Moving forward, Jean
says, the focus is on addressing tenants' concerns; ensuring Mount Hope's different departments (such as Youth and Adult Services) become self-sufficient; replenishing the buildings' reserves; ensuring a system is in place to guard against the reserves being "purged" again; making Mount Hope's finances more transparent; and ultimately restoring HPD's and other partners' confidence.
says Mount Hope
has managed to pay off some debt, and to address problems in the worst
buildings, including one on Creston Avenue.
Key figures in the community are rooting for him.
"I think Fritz
is going to turn things around," Clardy said.
believes Mount Hope
has turned a corner, but he
fears funders and partners could decide to bring someone else in to manage the buildings.
"Ultimately they [HPD] have a decision to make, the same thing with all the partners," he
said."My only hope is for them to say, 'You know what?
historically has been a very good organization.
thinks it would be sad day if Mount Hope
was forced to scale back.
is a minority-run organization," Jean
According to Fritz Jean, the new CEO, the project has long been hampered by construction delays, and funding problems.
But this latest delay has nothing to do to with money.
"The money is not at all the issue.
It [only] becomes an issue when we look at the operation," Jean
said,in that Mount Hope
is still looking for funds to keep the center afloat when it finally opens.
Instead, something else is holding it back.
"Most recently we discovered that the building encroaches upon city property by three eighths of an inch," Jean
says the idea now is to build a two-story parking garage underground, and the gymnasium on top.