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Sunday, 10 May 2015 22:00

Q&A: Kevin Elsenheimer, executive director, Michigan State Housing Development Authority

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Kevin Elsenheimer Kevin Elsenheimer COURTESY PHOTO

A former state representative from Traverse City and a veteran of several state agencies, Kevin Elsenheimer was recently appointed to lead the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). As executive director, Elsenheimer said that his focus will be on three areas that MSHDA sees as its vital mission: getting people into affordable single-family and multifamily housing, addressing homelessness, and supporting community development efforts. “That’s plenty of work for us to be doing and it’s an appropriate focus for us going forward,” he said. Elsenheimer spoke with MiBiz about how the agency will address these goals and restore faith in the organization after a former director resigned last summer.

Given MSHDA’s top three priorities, what are your challenges in achieving them?

When interest rates are low, some of our products for single-family and multifamily loans are less competitive. We need to make sure our customer service is making up for any pressure that interest rates are putting on our products and we need to be prepared if our products become more competitive in the marketplace going forward. (That’s) really outside of our control, but if it does happen, we need to be prepared and ready to move.

How about bottlenecks in community development?

(W)e need to focus on the governor’s objectives going forward. He has laid out a clear strategy. We support it, and we intend to be a player in community development issues going forward. The governor has issued (the MIPlace strategy) in dealing with community development issues, and we intend to implement them.

What’s the agency’s charge in addressing homelessness?

There is a plan to eliminate homelessness here in Michigan. That’s a bold statement, but it’s something we intend to focus our efforts on.

Here in Grand Rapids, there are nonprofit groups such as Well House with similar goals. They often say the strategy to end homelessness is to build housing. How do various groups work together to solve the persistent problem?

This may require a multi-faceted approach because it is a complex problem. It really boils down to individual attention — what a particular individual who is in a homeless situation needs. But MSHDA’s role in it is … to approach housing first. We are housing experts and that’s a role we can play … in the solution to this problem. It’s one we are going to be focusing on. At the same time, we recognize that our nonprofits around the state need our help, our assistance, our expertise and we intend to continue the strong partnerships we have with them and hopefully grow those going forward.

Through an executive order last year, the governor put MSHDA under the umbrella of the newly-created Department of Talent and Economic Development. What kind of role does your agency play in that group?

MSHDA has an important role to play in economic development through our community development programs, which is one of our key focuses. In order to attract talent to Michigan, you need to have decent, affordable housing for people. Those two aspects of our core mission are right in line with what the Governor is trying to accomplish by creating (these new organizations).

Many of the recent building projects in greater Grand Rapids have been for market-rate housing. How does MSHDA intend to work with private developers to create housing options for people at a variety of income levels?

(W)e remain very active in the low-income housing marketplace. We’ve met with developers — even over the last few days — that have either active projects or are contemplating potential projects. Municipalities around the state are very interested in addressing low- to moderate-(income) housing in their communities. So MSHDA is going to have an active role to play. It’s an expertise that we have. We are the pathway to numerous state and federal programs. We will continue to be that pathway and are excited about some of the opportunities out there. We think there will be cranes and building projects all throughout Michigan over the next several years.

What did MSHDA learn from the allegations of misuse of funds that led to the resignation of the former executive director?

We recognize that the money that we spend in operations comes from taxpayers in Michigan — either through programs that have been funded at the federal level or state level or through tax dollars. We have to spend those dollars carefully. We have conducted audits. We are accepting every single recommendation that has been put forth in those audits. We are modifying internal policies appropriately.

How does the agency plan to address transparency?

There will be a new travel policy in place (soon). It’s just about ready for my signature. It will make sure that the kind of things we saw happen over the last several years aren’t repeated and that we are following the policies that are commonplace throughout the rest of Michigan government. We will be consistent with the state of Michigan travel policy. That required some modification to the internal policies we had in the past.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. 

Read 1655 times Last modified on Sunday, 10 May 2015 22:37

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