Local officials claim progress

Last updated: September 28. 2013 7:11AM - 5371 Views
By - bshiles@civitasmedia.com



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LUMBERTON — The attorney for the Lumberton Housing Authority says that the authority has come a long way in addressing concerns raised last spring by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development concerning local management and expenditures of federal funds.


“HUD is very encouraged by the progress that has been made. We are headed down the right path,” Kimberly Jones said. “We are trying to take all of the corrective actions that HUD has recommended.”


Jones said that the Housing Authority is now waiting for the results of an independent on-site investigation by the HUD Office of Inspector General that was sparked by the original HUD findings. HUD found the Lumberton Housing Authority to be in violation of conflict-of-interest requirements, to lack adequate controls over its disbursements, and that it failed to maintain an adequate inventory control systemg.


A letter from HUD informed the local authority in February that it is not to spend or obligate any federal money without first getting HUD approval because of a concern “about the possible improper expenditure of funds.”


Jones said last week that despite the progress made by the authority over the past several months, the HUD order is still in effect.


James Meacher, the authority’s executive director for 33 years,, retired shortly after the original HUD findings were released and the authority was directed not to spend or obligate funds without first getting HUD approval. In March, Lemark Harris, executive director of the Pembroke Housing Authority, was named as Lumberton’s interim executive director. Harris currently is overseeing the management of the housing authorities in both Pembroke and Lumberton.


The 32-page HUD management review brought to light a number of deficiencies, including a finding that the authority entered into contracts that violated conflict-of-interest regulations that could force the return of almost $300,000 in federal money. The bulk of HUD’s findings related to the authority’s failure to keep policies current — such as those for travel and personnel — as well as the lack of internal controls and “checks-and-balances” for different aspects of financial management and record-keeping.


Jones said hat a repayment agreement has been reached with HUD for the $300,000 in federal money that the authority spent entering into contracts that violated conflict of interest regulations.


“This (repayment) won’t interfere with operations of the housing authority or negatively affect the residents of authority housing,” said Jones.


The HUD management review was conducted between March 19 and March 23 by HUD’s Office of Public Housing in Greensboro. The review looked at how the authority is governed, its organization and staff, financial management, management operations, facilities management and capital funds.


According to a Jan. 23 letter from Michael Williams, director of HUD’s Greensboro office, the review found 13 serious programmatic findings and 15 observations related to potential non-compliance.


Jones said that the authority has successfully addressed most of HUD’s concerns.


“There are still some corrections in progress,” she said.


Jones said that the local authority is at a “standstill’’ while it waits for the results of the investigation conducted by the HUD Office of Inspector General over a period that began in late March.


“We don’t know when the Inspector General’s report will be made available,” Jone said. “Hopefully we will have it by the end of the year.”


According to the original HUD report, the Lumberton authority violated regulations by entering into prep-vacancy contracts with employees and former employees of the authority. Prep-vacancy contracts involve work that must be done to prepare housing units for occupancy.


The two companies named in the report as including housing authority employees, family members of employees, and former authority employees are B&A and B&L.


The bulk of HUD findings relate to the authority’s failure to keep policies current — such as those for travel and personnel — as well as the lack of internal controls and “checks-and-balances” for different aspects of financial management and record-keeping. The report also said that the review found that the authority failed to follow policies requiring leases to be terminated for criminal activity or for non-payment of rent, and that no policy exists for providing for individuals to ever be removed from the authority’s banned list.


Among other observations made by the study team is that the housing authority’s tenant and unit management software was difficult for the staff to use and did not produce the reports needed to effectively manage units.


Recently, Vanessa Dunn, formerly of Durham, was hired as the authority’s director of housing services. There are four additional management positions open that the authority hopes to fill soon. Positions open include: asset manager; assistant asset manager; director of finance/IT services; and resident services coordinator. All of the positions can be applied for on the Lumberton Housing Authority’s web page.


“We encourage all interested and qualified individuals to apply for these positions, ” Jones said.


The Lumberton Housing Authority currently oversees 729 units of low-income public housing. It also is responsible for 563 units of Section 8 housing that are scattered throughout Robeson County.

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