Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

TOP STORY >>HUD gives housing authority more time to comply

By PEG KENYON
Leader staff writer

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials have agreed to give the Jacksonville Housing Authority more time to comply with federal regulations. Last summer, a HUD review uncovered lack of documentation, inadequate employee training, no-bid contracts for expenditures of more than $25,000, all of which jeopardized thousands of dollars in federal funding.

Along with the less-than-flattering review of the way the JHA was run, its longtime executive director Virginia Simmons submitted her resignation, leading to the resignation of the four remaining JHA board members. HUD officials will not say how much funding, if any, the JHA lost in the past few years because of shoddy management. Phil Nix, the new JHA executive director, and Jim Durham, the new board chairman, are cooperating with HUD officials as they rectify deficiencies to avoid being penalized by federal regulators.

“It’s going to be by their grace not to penalize,” Durham said in an interview. “Our hope is that they will waive all penalties.”
Durham and Nix said they do not know when HUD will make a decision about possible penalties against the JHA. At its regular monthly meeting Thursday, the JHA board approved newly written policies addressing vehicle and credit-card usage. Nix described the one-page vehicle policy used in the past as too vague.

“It didn’t address if you even needed to have a valid driver’s license to use one,” Nix said. About the credit-card policy, Nix said, “To my knowledge, they didn’t have one…at least, I couldn’t find it.”

The JHA board also approved a resolution to accept the negotiated memorandum of agreement with HUD to establish a contracting file system, employee training, promoting active-resident organizations, meeting regularly with resident leadership and dealing with vacant units during specific dates throughout this year.

The JHA board also approved a resolution to demolish apartments 4-A and 4-B. It had been vacant for months after a meth lab was found on the premises. A police substation may be built on the site after the demolition of the unit. Nix said a newly organized resident- advisory group and other tenants approved this course of action at a prior meeting.

There are currently 95 occupied units at the Max Howell complex. Three units are vacant, Nix told the directors. Durham said two of the units were those apartments affected by the meth lab operation. The air-conditioning project, which began last fall, is now completed. All units now have air-conditioning systems at the Max Howell Place in the northwest area of Jacksonville.

Two JHA employees have also been approved to undergo manager’s training. One of those employees will be Nix. The JHA board approved an estimated cost of $4,060 to be spent on staff training at a four-day seminar beginning on April 23 in Denver.

Nix told the three board members present at Thursday’s meeting that there are 309 approved applicants and 190 applicants on a waiting list. Of the 309 who receive rental housing vouchers, 24 applicants were just recently approved. Funding expenditures in a month exceeded $100,000.

The JHA board approved writing off $1,573 in bad debts, which include monthly rents in arrears. These accounts are held open for about 90 days as employees attempt to recover those funds through letters before being written off as a bad debt.