Tom Hoch, a former leader of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), will serve as the chair of its board, filling a seat that has been vacant for nearly three months.
Mayor Jacob Frey nominated Hoch — a onetime political rival — for the post last week, and the City Council confirmed it with a 9-3 vote Thursday.
"We need people that know what they're doing, that have deep experience in this work and that are willing to carry that work out for the benefit of the residents in MPHA," Frey said during the confirmation hearing Thursday. Hoch's proven track record and years of experience in housing and commitment to public service makes him an "excellent" choice for the role, Frey said.
Hoch ran for mayor in 2017 and is the founder and longtime leader of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. He worked as MPHA's deputy executive director in the 1990s for seven years, overseeing its finances, housing development strategies and Section 8 housing programs.
He's one of only two candidates who applied for the volunteer position to lead the nine-member governing board. Hoch replaces former board chair Sharmarke Issa, who resigned in February after a building he helped buy was tied to a federal investigation of alleged food program fraud.
Several city officials lauded Hoch for helping lift the authority from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designation of a "troubled" agency to a "high performer" during his tenure at MPHA.
But at the council's Business, Inspections, Housing and Zoning Committee meeting last week, and at Thursday's hearing, some council members questioned Hoch's leadership at MPHA, particularly his role in the Hollman v. Cisneros case.
In the early 1990s, the Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the NAACP filed a federal class action lawsuit against several entities, including the city, the housing authority, HUD and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency. The suit alleged the public housing and Section 8 programs in Minneapolis were operated and created in away that helped perpetuate racial segregation in the city.
At the council committee meeting last week, Hoch said he helped negotiate the terms of a consent decree, which "provided for the first time significant mobility opportunities for residents and particularly for residents of color," including guaranteeing residents that they would have their homes back after renovations."
Council member Robin Wonsley Worlobah, who voted against Hoch's selection, said on Thursday that the approval of the Hollman consent decree has "helped to kick off the privatization of public housing."
Fear of displacement still looms among MPHA residents, dogging the public housing agency even in recent years as it tried to undertake major rehabilitation projects. Asked what he would do to prevent displacement, Hoch said he would make sure MPHA adheres to HUD's "requirements that prohibit the displacement of residents when there's rehab or any change in the system."
At the council committee meting, members also asked Hoch about his plans for reducing an extensive waitlist, improving housing conditions and supporting residents of color and immigrants experiencing housing instability.
With a backlog of more than $160 million in projects, Hoch said he will lobby for more state and federal funding for the agency and work with other organizations to boost affordable housing.
Hoch, who grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from Washburn High School, said he's never lived in public housing or used Section 8 vouchers but nevertheless is still committed to visiting MPHA properties and listening to resident concerns.
Hoch will preside over the board through 2024. The board chair is not a paid position, but all commissioners receive a $55 stipend to attend board meetings, which typically are conducted on the fourth Wednesday of every month. The board is tasked with setting policy and approving the agency's $170 million annual budget. The Housing Authority oversees about 6,200 public housing units and serves more than 26,000 people.