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Longmont Housing Authority offering answers and an apology

The Longmont Housing Authority - after ousting their executive last week - is apologizing for those warrantless searches last year.

LONGMONT - For the first time in eight months' worth of stories on the Longmont Housing Authority, a representative of the LHA is saying something we haven't heard before: I'm sorry.

"I really regret what has occurred over the last number of months. I think as the board, we've taken appropriate action, and we're now on a course that we should be on," said LHA board chairman Wendell Pickett. "I think the focus should be on healing the community, on taking care of our tenants first and foremost and doing our job. And I think that we're doing that."

Pickett, who has served on the board for five years and just became chairman, agreed to talk with 9NEWS after asking executive Michael Reis to resign on Thursday.

Last week, Kimberly Thomas, a former LHA regional property manager, provided Next and Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley with photos of Reis. The photos showed Reis wearing a headband and a medal, standing on a third-place podium in front of a sign for being named the Longmont Times-Call number three news story of 2017. Except, the designation of the number three news story was for the coverage of the warrantless searches of low-income apartment units.

In a statement posted on the housing authority's website, the board wrote:

"Unfortunately, we became aware of events that caused us to take immediate action and change course with management."

Pickett would not confirm if those photos of Reis were what caused him to ask Reis to resign.

"You know I can't answer that directly, it's an employment issue. Actions speak for themselves," said Pickett. "I really regret that the Longmont Housing Authority has been put in this light. It's done a lot of great work, houses a lot of people here in Longmont, day in and day out, and really, it was time for a change."

The warrantless searches of The Suites in May 2017 were based on searches that had previously taken place at the Briarwood Apartments which are attached to the LHA administrative offices. The tenants of Briarwood are on probation, and a condition of their probation may include surprise visits by police officers.

Tenants of The Suites are no different than anyone else living in an apartment. While they have to allow property management into their units for inspections with proper notice, they don't have to allow police or police dogs into their units without their consent or a warrant.

"This is not the direction and the kind of attention that we want. And it doesn't represent the entire portfolio of the Housing Authority. We're an asset to the community and we need to really earn the trust of the community back and support, and be an asset of the community," said Pickett.

The searches at The Suites were also based on a recent overdose death at The Suites and management suspicion of drug use on site.

While the searches were illegal, the underlying concern has proven to be accurate.

According to Pickett, there are currently eight units within the LHA that have tested positive for meth contamination after the tenant vacated the unit. One of the units at Briarwood has a "Warning" sign posted on the door.

"Now, it is protocol and policy, has been since first of the year, that every time a unit comes up, we test it. We're trying to be proactive in this matter," said Pickett. "Just like with you and your neighbor, if you have a concern or suspicion, you can reach out to the police and you can contact them and they can evaluate your concern, and whether or not it's credible and if it's actionable. We're under the same rules there."

He said the initial testing of a unit is $450. The cost of the remediation after that depends on the level of contamination.

Pickett and the board are not paid for their work. They also have other jobs. Since Reis' resignation on Thursday, they have been working to shore up administrative duties and find an interim director.

"We are committed. We are all longtime residents of Longmont. We're all very vested in the community. We all own businesses and operate in the community, and this is our home," Pickett said. "We want it to be a good community. We're proud of our community, and we want to have the Housing Authority be something that we're proud of that we've worked on."

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