Mission program in danger of losing funding

MISSION — The future of services for seniors at Mission’s Palm Plaza Development is in question after the board members of the Mission Housing Authority could not agree to allow non-tenants of the housing authority to participate in the service.

During a board meeting on Tuesday, the board members were set to agree to send a letter to the Area Agency on Aging, the agency that funds the staff for the Palm Plaza Senior Center, which is operated by the Mission Housing Authority. The center offers meal assistance to senior among other services. The letter would serve to inform AAA that the housing authority would continue to allow non-tenants to participate in the meal program.

Deputy Executive Director Jaime Ayala explained that AAA requested the letter, to be written either by the Mission Housing Authority or the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

However, Board member Connie Garza said she was concerned whether allowing tenants to participate was a violation of HUD regulations so she reached out to their regional office in San Antonio.

HUD responded in an email that they found no outright violation, according to Ayala, and said they would leave it up to the board members to decide whether or not to continue their current practice, thus also leaving it up to them to send the letter to AAA.

The letter, however, will not be sent — at least for now — as the majority of the board members voted against it.

Garza, who made the motion against sending the letter, said she favored only allowing housing authority tenants to participate as a way to avoid legal troubles.

“If this center is open to the public, we will need to comply with health and safety requirements as well as permits and trained staff,” said Garza, who also sits on the AAA board. “Ultimately, if there’s any liability it’s us who vote and we are going to take with that the liability that comes with it.”

She acknowledged, though, that funding from AAA was contingent on the Senior Center being open to the public.

Board members Irma Flores Lopez and Guadalupe Ozuna voted with Garza opposing the letter.

After the meeting, Executive Director Joel A. Gonzalez said that, currently, five non-tenants participate in the Senior Center program.

“Right now the whole program is on hold,” Gonzalez said. “They’re (AAA) waiting for this letter to be provided to them to continue funding the program.”

Gonzalez reiterated that AAA required that they service all senior citizens in the area but given the board’s decision, he said they would ask AAA if they can exclude the five non-tenants.

“If they tell us we can exclude those five, then fine, we don’t have any problems here,” he said.

The only other major item on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was for the housing authority to advertise for the executive director position.

The same three board members — Garza, Flores Lopez, and Ozuna — rejected the motion, pointing out that there needed to be a vacancy of the executive director’s position before they could advertise to fill it.

Gonzalez, however, argued that his contract ended on Jan. 4, 2020, and didn’t see a need to submit a resignation letter to the board. However, he said he was willing to do so.

Board member Garza also indicated that she believed that when it came time to decide on a new executive director, that decision should be made by the new board as the terms of three of the current board members expire at the end of December. However, it is unclear if any of the other board members supported such a delay.

Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, who also attended the board meeting, said he believed Garza was correct in not wanting to move forward with advertising the position just yet.

“Follow the protocols, the process,” O’Caña said. “If there are no openings, how can you make an appointment?”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Area Agency on Aging funds the staff for the Senior Center.