Acting director’s legal troubles not an issue for Hamilton housing agency

News Apr 13, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

Christine Lenze was convicted of breach of trust in 2012.

The acting head of a struggling social housing provider for aboriginals was convicted of breach of trust in 2012 after an RCMP probe into the use of heritage grants in Manitoba.

Christine Lenze took over as acting executive director of Hamilton's Urban Native Homes last year after a longtime top staffer was fired. Lenze has not responded to repeated requests for an interview via her office and a letter delivered to her home.

The faltering board of UNH was replaced by the city last week over financial and management concerns. The Spectator has found the agency faces lawsuits from former employees as well as legal claims from contractors over a nightmare building renovation — still incomplete — that has cost the housing provider $4 million.

Those problems, however, predate Lenze's management role by several years. Prior to 2015, she worked in less-senior positions overseeing programs and as an outreach worker.

[ Urban Native Homes spent $4M on "nightmare" building before city stepped in ]

In 2010, she was charged by the RCMP with fraud over $5,000 and two counts of breach of trust in connection with alleged misuse of federal cash meant for aboriginal artists in Winnipeg from 2004 to 2006.

Lenze was later convicted of a single count of breach of trust by a public officer and served a one-year conditional sentence in Hamilton in 2012, according to a Winnipeg provincial court file.

An agreed statement of facts submitted to the court indicates Lenze, at the time a contract cultural development officer for Heritage Canada, was the lone departmental contact with the Winnipeg-based Red Earth Young Artist Collective.

The statement says it was later determined all but two board members for the collective were family members of Lenze. The collective received $171,905 in federal grant support, but did not have "sufficient documents to support" $139,445 in spending.

An eventual audit and RCMP investigation revealed "a number of questionable transactions," including several "unsupported" payments to or on behalf of family members, as well as to companies registered to family members.

The questionable payments, one as high as $20,000 but typically between $2,000 to $6,000, include cheques written to sisters, cousins and a husband over two years, the court document states.

The City of Hamilton, which has a provincially delegated oversight role for social housing projects, had no record of "any previous misconduct" by Lenze, said spokesperson Jen Recine.

[ Hamilton dissolves, replaces board of 250-unit Urban Native Homes ]

"She has been very co-operative with the city. In fact, she was the individual who brought to our attention the issues we're currently working to help mitigate," Recine said.

The most recent UNH board chair, Leon O'Connor, also praised Lenze for doing "a hell of a good job" in trying circumstances.

She was appointed amid staff turnover following her predecessor's termination last year and as the cash-strapped board struggled to deal with an unfinished renovation on Kenilworth Avenue North that had already sucked up $4 million.

O'Connor said Lenze's background was discussed prior to her appointment, but added he understood the charges to be "unfounded."

"She told us everything was dealt with, so everything was fine," he said.

Her predecessor and former boss, Janice Lewis-Deeley, said she was aware Lenze had faced charges but didn't deem it important given her role at the time. "We thought, that's behind her, really. She was not, at that point, dealing with … any money. She was dealing more with her programs and clients."

A newly appointed board for the UNH has met, but is asking the city to speak on its behalf for the time being, said Recine. Tenants can still call or email their regular staff contacts at the agency with questions or maintenance requests.

If that doesn't work, the city councillor for the area can pass on concerns to the appropriate staff members, said Coun. Sam Merulla, whose Ward 4 includes the contentious eight-unit building for aboriginal men on Kenilworth Avenue.

"This is not a city organization, but we're doing what we can to help," he said. "It's not going to be fixed overnight."

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

Acting director’s legal troubles not an issue for Hamilton housing agency

News Apr 13, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

Christine Lenze was convicted of breach of trust in 2012.

The acting head of a struggling social housing provider for aboriginals was convicted of breach of trust in 2012 after an RCMP probe into the use of heritage grants in Manitoba.

Christine Lenze took over as acting executive director of Hamilton's Urban Native Homes last year after a longtime top staffer was fired. Lenze has not responded to repeated requests for an interview via her office and a letter delivered to her home.

The faltering board of UNH was replaced by the city last week over financial and management concerns. The Spectator has found the agency faces lawsuits from former employees as well as legal claims from contractors over a nightmare building renovation — still incomplete — that has cost the housing provider $4 million.

Those problems, however, predate Lenze's management role by several years. Prior to 2015, she worked in less-senior positions overseeing programs and as an outreach worker.

[ Urban Native Homes spent $4M on "nightmare" building before city stepped in ]

In 2010, she was charged by the RCMP with fraud over $5,000 and two counts of breach of trust in connection with alleged misuse of federal cash meant for aboriginal artists in Winnipeg from 2004 to 2006.

Lenze was later convicted of a single count of breach of trust by a public officer and served a one-year conditional sentence in Hamilton in 2012, according to a Winnipeg provincial court file.

An agreed statement of facts submitted to the court indicates Lenze, at the time a contract cultural development officer for Heritage Canada, was the lone departmental contact with the Winnipeg-based Red Earth Young Artist Collective.

The statement says it was later determined all but two board members for the collective were family members of Lenze. The collective received $171,905 in federal grant support, but did not have "sufficient documents to support" $139,445 in spending.

An eventual audit and RCMP investigation revealed "a number of questionable transactions," including several "unsupported" payments to or on behalf of family members, as well as to companies registered to family members.

The questionable payments, one as high as $20,000 but typically between $2,000 to $6,000, include cheques written to sisters, cousins and a husband over two years, the court document states.

The City of Hamilton, which has a provincially delegated oversight role for social housing projects, had no record of "any previous misconduct" by Lenze, said spokesperson Jen Recine.

[ Hamilton dissolves, replaces board of 250-unit Urban Native Homes ]

"She has been very co-operative with the city. In fact, she was the individual who brought to our attention the issues we're currently working to help mitigate," Recine said.

The most recent UNH board chair, Leon O'Connor, also praised Lenze for doing "a hell of a good job" in trying circumstances.

She was appointed amid staff turnover following her predecessor's termination last year and as the cash-strapped board struggled to deal with an unfinished renovation on Kenilworth Avenue North that had already sucked up $4 million.

O'Connor said Lenze's background was discussed prior to her appointment, but added he understood the charges to be "unfounded."

"She told us everything was dealt with, so everything was fine," he said.

Her predecessor and former boss, Janice Lewis-Deeley, said she was aware Lenze had faced charges but didn't deem it important given her role at the time. "We thought, that's behind her, really. She was not, at that point, dealing with … any money. She was dealing more with her programs and clients."

A newly appointed board for the UNH has met, but is asking the city to speak on its behalf for the time being, said Recine. Tenants can still call or email their regular staff contacts at the agency with questions or maintenance requests.

If that doesn't work, the city councillor for the area can pass on concerns to the appropriate staff members, said Coun. Sam Merulla, whose Ward 4 includes the contentious eight-unit building for aboriginal men on Kenilworth Avenue.

"This is not a city organization, but we're doing what we can to help," he said. "It's not going to be fixed overnight."

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

Acting director’s legal troubles not an issue for Hamilton housing agency

News Apr 13, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

Christine Lenze was convicted of breach of trust in 2012.

The acting head of a struggling social housing provider for aboriginals was convicted of breach of trust in 2012 after an RCMP probe into the use of heritage grants in Manitoba.

Christine Lenze took over as acting executive director of Hamilton's Urban Native Homes last year after a longtime top staffer was fired. Lenze has not responded to repeated requests for an interview via her office and a letter delivered to her home.

The faltering board of UNH was replaced by the city last week over financial and management concerns. The Spectator has found the agency faces lawsuits from former employees as well as legal claims from contractors over a nightmare building renovation — still incomplete — that has cost the housing provider $4 million.

Those problems, however, predate Lenze's management role by several years. Prior to 2015, she worked in less-senior positions overseeing programs and as an outreach worker.

[ Urban Native Homes spent $4M on "nightmare" building before city stepped in ]

In 2010, she was charged by the RCMP with fraud over $5,000 and two counts of breach of trust in connection with alleged misuse of federal cash meant for aboriginal artists in Winnipeg from 2004 to 2006.

Lenze was later convicted of a single count of breach of trust by a public officer and served a one-year conditional sentence in Hamilton in 2012, according to a Winnipeg provincial court file.

An agreed statement of facts submitted to the court indicates Lenze, at the time a contract cultural development officer for Heritage Canada, was the lone departmental contact with the Winnipeg-based Red Earth Young Artist Collective.

The statement says it was later determined all but two board members for the collective were family members of Lenze. The collective received $171,905 in federal grant support, but did not have "sufficient documents to support" $139,445 in spending.

An eventual audit and RCMP investigation revealed "a number of questionable transactions," including several "unsupported" payments to or on behalf of family members, as well as to companies registered to family members.

The questionable payments, one as high as $20,000 but typically between $2,000 to $6,000, include cheques written to sisters, cousins and a husband over two years, the court document states.

The City of Hamilton, which has a provincially delegated oversight role for social housing projects, had no record of "any previous misconduct" by Lenze, said spokesperson Jen Recine.

[ Hamilton dissolves, replaces board of 250-unit Urban Native Homes ]

"She has been very co-operative with the city. In fact, she was the individual who brought to our attention the issues we're currently working to help mitigate," Recine said.

The most recent UNH board chair, Leon O'Connor, also praised Lenze for doing "a hell of a good job" in trying circumstances.

She was appointed amid staff turnover following her predecessor's termination last year and as the cash-strapped board struggled to deal with an unfinished renovation on Kenilworth Avenue North that had already sucked up $4 million.

O'Connor said Lenze's background was discussed prior to her appointment, but added he understood the charges to be "unfounded."

"She told us everything was dealt with, so everything was fine," he said.

Her predecessor and former boss, Janice Lewis-Deeley, said she was aware Lenze had faced charges but didn't deem it important given her role at the time. "We thought, that's behind her, really. She was not, at that point, dealing with … any money. She was dealing more with her programs and clients."

A newly appointed board for the UNH has met, but is asking the city to speak on its behalf for the time being, said Recine. Tenants can still call or email their regular staff contacts at the agency with questions or maintenance requests.

If that doesn't work, the city councillor for the area can pass on concerns to the appropriate staff members, said Coun. Sam Merulla, whose Ward 4 includes the contentious eight-unit building for aboriginal men on Kenilworth Avenue.

"This is not a city organization, but we're doing what we can to help," he said. "It's not going to be fixed overnight."

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec