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Opp House votes to dissolve, transfer assets to Buncombe

Founded in 1961, the Opportunity House is now legally dissolved and in the process of shutting down permanently. Founded in 1961, the Opportunity House is now legally dissolved and in the process of shutting down permanently.

The Opportunity House, which once boasted hundreds of dues-paying members who enjoyed a robust menu of arts and crafts shows, dances, bridge games and other programming for seniors, is in the process of going away for good.

The nonprofit’s three-member board voted on June 10 to dissolve the 61-year-old organization, setting in motion the process to shut it down and liquidate its assets. The final chapters of the senior center have come into sharper focus in recent weeks with numerous actions of the nonprofit’s board and attorney, the Community Foundation of Henderson County, the courts, the county tax office and state attorney general. The actions include:
• After a hearing on Feb. 28, Henderson County Resident Chief Superior Court Judge Peter Knight entered an order on March 7 denying the Opportunity House’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit the Community Foundation of Henderson County brought in December 2018. That marked the second time the nonprofit tried and failed to win a dismissal of the foundation’s lawsuit, which called into question whether the Opp House was legally operating as a nonprofit.
• Three weeks after the Opportunity House board voted on June 10 to dissolve the agency, its attorney, Edward Bleynat, filed articles of dissolution with the North Carolina Secretary of State.
• After a conference with attorneys for the Opportunity House and the foundation on July 22, Knight appointed a receiver to wind down the organization, pay its creditors and coordinate the distribution of its assets. Knight’s order gives the receiver, Asheville attorney John Noor, broad authority to oversee maintenance, repair and operation of the nonprofit, pay bills and defend the Opportunity House in court proceedings. Knight authorized an hourly rate of $300 for Noor and other partners at the Roberts & Stevens law firm, $225 for associates and $100 for administrative assistants.
• The same day Knight appointed the receiver, Henderson County’s tax administrator, Darlene Burgess, informed County Attorney Russ Burrell that her office had revoked the Opportunity House’s tax-exempt status and was moving to collect current and back taxes for the past five years. Noor has already met with tax office officials to discuss the property tax issue, Burgess said. Valued for property tax purposes at $1,897,800, the real estate at 1411 Asheville Highway would result in an annual tax bill of $20,496 based on the combined tax rates of the city of Hendersonville and Henderson County — not counting interest, penalties and other costs.
• The Opportunity House declared in its Plan of Dissolution it wanted to liquidate the assets and distribute the money after paying the total owed to creditors, which it estimated to be $390,000.
• The receivership and eventual transfer of assets or cash will be overseen by Judge Knight and state Attorney General Josh Stein. Bleynat, Noor and Steve Grabenstein, the Community Foundation’s attorney, discussed the wind-down process last week in a conference call with the attorney general’s office.

The Opportunity House has aggressively contested the lawsuit the Community Foundation filed in 2018 after it failed to get answers from the Opp House’s president and board members about its activities and service. The foundation’s lawsuit spelled out reasons it believed the foundation may no longer meet the definition of a nonprofit corporation and asked Judge Knight to hold a trial that would establish whether it is a valid nonprofit.
In two different motions, the Opportunity House argued that the foundation lacked standing to question the agency’s status, asserting that only the IRS, the N.C. Department of Revenue, the N.C. secretary of state or N.C. attorney general had that authority. For now, the lawsuit is on hold, Grabenstein said, and may ultimately be dismissed if the receivership protects the interest of nonprofits in Henderson County.
“The Order appointing John (Noor) was quite expansive in terms of what authority he has.,” Grabenstein said in an email answering a series of questions from the Lightning. “We are trying to figure out what role, if any, the Community Foundation will have in the dissolution process. The Community Foundation is not a party to the process but I expect we will put something in the record that reflects the issues of concern to the Community Foundation. The Attorney General will play a role in reviewing the proposed sale of OH’s assets.”

Who gets the assets?

One unresolved point of contention is where the proceeds from sale of the Opp House asset would go. Reflecting its ongoing hostility toward the Community Foundation, the Opp House board in its Plan of Dissolution directed that the proceeds should go to an Asheville-based affordable housing agency or other nonprofits, then emphasized that the property “will NOT be transferred to the Community Foundation of Henderson County.”
The Opp House’s choice of Mountain Housing Opportunity as the recipient of a half million dollars or more was a curious decision, since no one at the Community Foundation was aware of any Henderson County service MHO provides. According to its most recent IRS form 990, MHO in 2019 received $3.5 million in grants, $1.7 million in program revenue, paid $1.2 million in salaries and had $14.9 million in assets, up $2.1 million from the previous year.
On its website, MHO says in its 32-year history it has built or financed more than 1,600 affordable homes and apartments and says it currently owns and leases 1,039 affordable apartments in nine counties in North Carolina.
“Mountain Housing works in Buncombe County,” Sarah Grymes, vice president for housing impact for Dogwood Health Trust, said early Monday morning. “They do not serve Henderson County.” Later, Grymes said, “I just talked to (MHO fundraising chief) Geoffrey Barton and he didn’t know anything about this.”

Transferring a windfall to a Buncombe organization would trigger alarm in Henderson County’s nonprofit community. Grabenstein and Benson said their role at this stage is to advocate for Henderson County’s charities.
“We have identified a few issues that we hope will be addressed in the dissolution process,” Grabenstein said. “First and foremost, we have asked that the receiver and the Court ensure that the proceeds from the sale of OH’s property be disbursed to non-profits in Henderson County. We are not asking for the Community Foundation to receive either OH’s land or the proceeds from the sale of the land. There are plenty of viable non-profits in Henderson County which would benefit from a portion of the proceeds from the sale of OH’s assets. Second, we are asking that the creditors’ claims from OH insiders be closely scrutinized and analyzed by the receiver, the AG and the Court.”

Construction consultant becomes board member

The “insiders” would include the three board members, President Ken Rhoads; Jackie Roberts, the secretary who at one point was helping Rhoads manage the agency; and Chuck Snider, an Asheville home builder.
Rhoads has not responded to calls from the Lightning seeking comment, and in particular to explain why the board wants an Asheville-based nonprofit to receive money from the sale of Opp House assets.
Snider’s relationship with the Opp House came about when Rhoads asked him to help with repairs.

“I was brought on board as a construction consultant to redesign that building (and) to fix all the problems and wound up being on the board because I was going out there all the time,” Snider said last week. “As far as the legalities of it, I just don’t know much about it.”
Asked why the board favored MHO, he said, “Well, it’s a state organization,” chartered by the Secretary of State. “I don’t think Henderson County has much to do with it anymore. They can pretty well go anywhere inside the state of North Carolina.”
Asked if he was aware that the county tax assessor had revoked the Opp House’s nonprofit status, Snider said he did not think that was true.
“Currently, as far as I know, the state attorney general still declares it to be in good standing,” he said. “I don’t know much about that part.”
Snider said he expected he might follow through with the construction plans under a new owner. He estimated the building— held together with “bailing wire and duct tape” — needs at least $50,000 worth of repairs.
“It’s a moving target with all the stuff going on, the legalities of it,” he said. “That’s not my part of it. I just go to the meetings and go to the lawyer’s meetings. The ideal situation is to pass it on to another nonprofit and go from there. Pay off the bills and whatever’s left goes to whoever the receiver decides.” Rhoads is “not making a dime off this,” Snider added. “It’s costing him money if anything.”
Now that Rhoads and the board no longer control the Opportunity House, its future is in the hands of the receiver, the Superior Court and the attorney general.
“Thankfully, Judge Knight and Mr. Noor have been interested in hearing what is important to the Community Foundation in this process,” Grabenstein said.