HUD cites Pioneer Civic Services in misuse of funds.
Peoria - It's not clear what happened to Pioneer Civic Services Inc., a not-for-profit housing agency, since HUD discontinued its funding, citing misuse of almost $500,000 in federal funds among numerous other violations.
The office is closed. The telephone number is disconnected. Emails go unanswered.
The Heart of Illinois HIV/AIDS Center at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria - Pioneer's one-time partner in providing housing services to people with HIV and AIDS - paid July and August rents for 26 people formerly served by Pioneer programs.
Pioneer, once the major agency receiving housing funds to serve chronically homeless people with HIV and AIDS, has been awarded almost $4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over the past decade. HUD audited the agency a year ago.
"I don't know exactly what happened," said Pam Briggs, director of the Heart of Illinois HIV/AIDS Center. "When clients started telling us their landlords hadn't received checks, we were able to step in. But it's only a short-term solution."
The HIV/AIDS center is working out a deal with HUD to assume what remains of Pioneer's most recent grants, at least $76,000 in one case. Briggs is waiting to hear from HUD about the details of a second grant.
"My understanding is the organization has disbanded," said the Rev. John E. Wright, who still holds Sunday services in Pioneer's headquarters, a huge brick building in the 1300 block of Southwest Adams Street.
"I do know someone's still cashing our rent checks."
The back part of the building, which faces Pecan Street, once housed South Side Office of Concern, Phoenix House and, most recently, Riverside Apartments, another of Pioneer's housing programs for people with HIV and AIDS.
Eleven former residents of Riverside also have been relocated. Pioneer received almost $1 million in HUD funding in 2007 to convert Riverside into 30 single-room occupancy units for chronically homeless people with AIDS or HIV.
Bright promise, then questions
In 1999, when Pioneer first won a three-year, $516,000 HUD grant to develop housing for people living with HIV and AIDS, then-HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo called it an innovation with the potential to become a model for the nation.
HIV and AIDS was no longer an automatic death sentence. Collaboration between the housing agency and the college of medicine's HIV/AIDS Center would curtail long-term medical costs, the thinking went, by coordinating and monitoring care and services, particularly for homeless people living with AIDS.
Pioneer also received state funding for its housing programs, which included rental assistance vouchers for individual residences, Riverside Apartments, a single-room occupancy rooming house for chronically homeless persons with HIV or AIDS, and a four-unit apartment building called Perry Street Apartments.
By August 2011, however, HUD auditors documented questionable expenditures dating back to at least 2006, including grant funds used inappropriately to make mortgage payments to National City Bank for the Riverside and Perry Street properties, as well as a conflict of interest involving $32,000 in grant money paid to a former executive director to remodel Perry Street and another property.
The audit also found the Perry Street and Riverside properties did not meet HUD's livability standards. In October 2010, HUD inspected 30 of the 33 housing units for which Pioneer received federal housing assistance or operating subsidies. "All 30 units inspected failed to meet HUD's habitability standards and local code," according to the audit.
Steve Clark, the local housing developer who founded Pioneer Civic Services in 1994 and served as its executive director for a number of years, said he is not sure what happened to the agency either. Clark said he has not been involved with the agency for about two years and has not seen the audit.
However, in a written response to the audit dated August 2011, Pioneer's last executive director, Chris Birkett, put much of the blame for Pioneer's problems on Clark. Birkett told HUD that Steven Clark and Associates made the decisions to make mortgage payments using HUD funds.
Birkett also disputed many of the other violations in the audit, pointing out the audit did not identify any health or safety violations. Birkett could not be located for comment.
Clark has a long history of renovating or renting inner-city properties.
At one time, in the 1990s, he had 60 rental units in the Section 8 program earning almost $200,000 a year, according to Journal Star archives.
Also in the '90s, he bought, renovated and leased space in the former McKinley School at the corner of Adrian Hinton Avenue and Webster Street to social service agencies such as Children's Home and Crittenton Center.
City on the Hill Church of Christ bought the old school building for $1 more than a year ago in an auction.
As for Pioneer Civic Services, a HUD spokeswoman could not say when funding was discontinued or what the federal agency's next steps are, except that HUD was following department protocols regarding the audit findings.
right's church, Liberty United Love Ministries, would like to buy the Pioneer Civic Services building in the 1300 block of Adams. But he's not sure of the building's status.
The Illinois Facilities Fund, which holds a second mortgage on Pioneer property, won a judgment against the agency in May for $150,915 in delinquent payments.
Wright says the church spent about $10,000 to renovate the space when they began renting from Pioneer about a year ago.
"All I know is we're trying to serve the community and this is a bad situation," Wright said.