“The board is trying to bring us out of the mid-twentieth century,” says Marta Manildi.

Last March, the city of Ann Arbor demolished its housing commission, terminating three of five board members. Manildi, one of the two survivors, is now the board president. “The city paid for an operational needs assessment in ’09,” Manildi explains. “And when we got the report, it was very clear that we had to look hard at staffing and organization.”

“The old board didn’t deal with day-to-day problems in an organized way,” says Tony Derezinski, city council’s liaison with the commission. “They weren’t even able to get to long-range planning. And it wasn’t getting any better.”

One of the new board’s first acts was to make interim executive director Marge Novak permanent. Made permanent along with her were deputy director Nick Coquillard and west side residency manager Kevin Centala. Already on staff was east side residency manager Beth Yaroch and financial manager Betsy Cornellier. More recently hired was Weneshia Brand, the commission’s first dedicated head of Section 8 housing.

“Marge is incredibly good,” says Manildi. “She’s got a background in finance, and she brings great attention to detail to every aspect of her job. But she’s also very effective at getting the staff to believe it’s a team effort led by a mission. Since we got Marge, Nick, Beth, and Kevin, the number of resident complaints has gone way down–and a number of people are coming to meetings now that didn’t come before, because of how things have changed.”

“There was a whole bunch of supervision and management that was basically nonexistent,” explains city administrator Roger Fraser. To remedy that, Fraser says, the city added $90,000 to the commission’s budget “to subsidize two positions for two years–deputy director and finance [manager].” The deputy director’s tasks include applying for grants, like the extra $350,000 AAHC recently won from the feds to help fund Section 8 vouchers.

“Our plan is to get the right group of people to run it, and get federal money to make it work better,” says Fraser. “The housing commission has been a peripheral issue prior to this because the city’s relationship has not been an ongoing financial partnership. But the city council has generally supported public housing–though the recent dramatic budget cuts have made that very difficult.”

Still, council has committed itself now–and no member is more committed than Tony Derezinski. “Public housing is rising in attention in the city,” says the council’s liaison, “especially in cold weather and all the homeless people.

“Vets are a big part of homelessness, vets of my generation with medical and mental problems,” says Derezinski, himself a Vietnam-era Navy vet. “We’re full up now and the question is, how can we expand? We’re talking about adding more and different units, more and better units. Miller Manor is very big, and we’re looking at other alternatives, at having smaller scattered-site units across the city.”