Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

TOP STORY >>Housing Authority may lose $140,000

By PEG KENYON
Leader staff writer

Department of Housing and Urban Development officials in-formed the Jacksonville Housing Authority Friday that it would lose its 2008 capital funds grant money. According to Barbara Boyd, a JHA employee, the loss is expected to be about $140,000.
At Thursday’s meeting of the JHA Board of Directors, there was still some hope the penalty could be avoided because of how quickly the board had complied with federal regulators’ requests before the date set for completion.

“We’re 79 percent complete,” Phil Nix, the new executive director, told the board of directors at Thursday’s meeting. The board of directors is also new, comprised of members appointed less than a year ago after federal regulators discovered mismanagement of the housing authority’s funds and poor record-keeping.

Working with his staff to restore the JHA’s good standing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Nix has continued to complete tasks ahead of schedule to bring Jacksonville’s housing authority in compliance with federal regulations listed in a memorandum of agreement.

The tasks include establishing 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.
Neither Nix nor any of the current JHA board members were in charge last summer when a HUD review uncovered lack of documentation, inadequate employee training and no-bid contracts for expenditures of more than $25,000 jeopardizing thousands of dollars in federal funding for the organization.

JHA oversees the day-to-day operation of the Max Howell Place apartment complex and disbursements of rent vouchers to low-income families and individuals. Last summer, the federal agency asked for contracts and work orders for more than $132,000 spent by the housing authority. HUD officials wanted to scrutinize all contracts and purchase orders and asked that they be pulled and made available for June 28

Along with a less-than-flattering review of the way the JHA was run, longtime executive director Virginia Simmons submitted her resignation leading to the resignation of the four remaining JHA board members. The new board was elated that Nix had completed 79 percent of the agreement with HUD between January and now. “We’ve been pedaling fast,” said Marilyn Canon, one of the new JHA board members.

Before Friday, HUD officials had not pinpointed how much funding, if any, the JHA could lose because of mismanagement during the past few years. Boyd said the penalty was levied because the former executive director was “late in obligating capital funds money.”

Nix, the new JHA executive director, and Jim Durham, the new board chairman, are cooperating with HUD officials to rectify deficiencies and avoid being penalized by federal regulators. Durham had said previously the group hoped all penalties will be waived.

During Thursday’s meeting, JHA board members expressed the need to mitigate any possible penalty by continuing complete the required tasks in a quick and efficient manner.

Durham said he was concerned that a monetary penalty would penalize future tenants of Jacksonville’s public housing.
In other business:

Following an executive session, JHA board members passed Resolution 07-20. It dealt with a new organizational chart and salary schedule for JHA employees. Four employees’ salaries will be decreased beginning with the first pay period of the new fiscal year this July.

Initially, the proposed resolution read that the salary cut would begin April 27, 2007. After adjourning the JHA board meeting, Durham told The Leader that the current position of assistant executive director would be referred to as office manager and a $4,000-gross pay cut would be imposed starting this fiscal year in July. The past board’s decision to give a salary increase and to participate in a housing authority retirement plan caused “deficit spending,” according to Durham.

To cover the costs, JHA was tapping into its reserves, Durham explained. The retirement plan will stay intact because it had been covered by “one lump sum,” he said.

Durham said he hopes that time will allow those employees affected by the pay cuts to find their best alternative choices. “We care about our employees,” Durham said.

Nix advised board members that Section 8 housing vouchers may face a funding cut this year and 167 applicants are on the waiting list as of now. At this time, JHA oversees 314 housing vouchers. “I have withheld issuing any more housing vouchers,” Nix said.

The 2007 proposed budget for JHA was also discussed. It will continue JHA’s handicap program to make accessibility easier for tenants of the Max Howell Place apartment complex in Jacksonville as well as demolishing two of the 100 units to construct whatever the board decides would be most beneficial for tenants.

One of those two units was a site of a methamphetamine lab several years ago which made the two units under the same roof uninhabitable.

It was also mentioned that some tenants had recommended additional lighting for the Max Howell Place apartment complex playground area.

The JHA’s future plan may include projects such as sidewalks as well as cabinet and appliance replacements. The local housing authority has already purchased two commercial lawnmowers costing more than $11,000.

Board members also approved Resolution 07-22, which addresses excess property. The resolution reads, “…it is determined that the JHA needs to write off from the inventory and dispose of the following equipment…” That equipment included four lawnmowers, a power washer, two printers, monitors, four air conditioners, an answering machine, a fax machine and a typewriter. Nix deemed those items mentioned in the resolution as “surplus” and once disposed of, those items will not be replaced.

The JHA Board approved a revised resident maintenance charges list for the Max Howell Place apartment complex. For example, it will cost a resident $6 to replace a door or mailbox key while replacing a toilet will cost $44. To unstop a drain caused by a resident, there will be a charge of $12 per hour. And to unlock an entry door after hours, it will cost a resident $25.

Board members also approved Resolution 07-23, which revises Section 8 Administrative Plan. The plan will allow Section 8 housing vouching recipients who under report their incomes a chance to pay off the amount owed to the JHA. An initial 25 percent of the amount must be paid and then the remaining 75 percent is divided into 12 equal payments.