County Housing Authority Runs Afoul Of HUD

BROOKSVILLE – Hernando County Housing Authority board members learned this week that the authority has been considered “troubled” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the last two years.

The designation came for failing to keep the department abreast of how the authority is responding to deficiencies found three years ago in its Section 8 housing voucher program, housing board member Anna Liisa Covell was told by a HUD official Monday.

“I wasn’t very happy when I found out,” Covell said Wednesday.

Covell said the issue came up during a lengthy conversation with John Niesz, director of public housing in HUD’s Jacksonville office. She’d actually called Niesz to get direction on how to proceed with folding the Brooksville Housing Authority, itself deemed troubled by HUD, into the county authority.

Covell said Niesz told her that such a merger would be a drawn-out process – and one further complicated by the county authority’s troubled status.

Covell brought up the issue at the Brooksville Housing Authority board meeting Tuesday night. Members of the county board, including Paul Sullivan, Beth Garman and Rose Atkins, attended to discuss the possibilities of a merger. All three said they were unaware of the troubled designation, Covell said.

Don Singer, the county authority’s executive director who also attended the meeting, told his board members that his office turned in its responses to HUD using the wrong paperwork, Sullivan said. Singer said HUD sent the information back and apparently marked it as never arriving.

Singer did not return a call seeking comment.

The Hernando authority was given a “corrective action plan” to address the deficiencies, Karen Jackson Sims, field office director in HUD’s Tampa office, said in an e-mail response Wednesday to Hernando Today.

HUD staffers are in Brooksville this week to “determine whether sufficient improvements have been implemented under the (plan) to warrant removal of the ‘troubled’ designation,” Jackson Sims said.

Sullivan said the county board will discuss the issue at its own board meeting next Wednesday.

“Don has some more explaining to do,” Sullivan said.

Each year, HUD gauges how well the county authority is administering its Section 8 housing program. As part of the Section 8 Management Assessment Program Certification, or SEMAP, HUD grades the authority in 14 categories.

Authorities that earn a score of 60 percent or less are deemed troubled. The county authority earned an overall score of 82 percent for its 2005 assessment, according to a letter from Niesz to Singer dated Jan. 31, 2006.

But in three categories, the county authority received no points. The categories dealt with how well the authority expands housing opportunities and does annual inspections on the quality of its housing. The authority was to send HUD “a written report describing the corrective actions taken within 45 calendar days” of receipt of the letter, Niesz wrote. The authority was given a troubled designation for not responding in a timely manner, Covell said Niesz told her Monday.

On Wednesday, both Covell and Sullivan said the problem does not appear to be a major one if the information was in fact submitted. Sullivan said he was bothered by the way HUD labels an agency as “troubled” for minor infractions.

But both Covell and Sullivan said they were concerned that Singer hadn’t kept them abreast of the situation. Covell recalls the deficiencies coming up in early 2006, but not after that, and at least three board members said they weren’t aware of the troubled designation.

“We were told these were being taken care of,” Covell said. She said Niesz told her Monday that Singer should have given the board status reports on how he was correcting the deficiencies.

Covell said she still felt “just as responsible” as a board member for not following up with Singer about the deficiencies.

Meanwhile, Covell and Sullivan said they remain firm in their stance that there should be one housing authority in the county – but that the Brooksville Housing Authority must take care of its problems before the county authority will consider some form of merger. Covell said her conversation with Niesz reaffirmed that the Brooksville authority has to fix its financial woes and resolve a lawsuit by Brooksville electrical contractor Jim Lane, who is seeking payment for work he did at the authority’s Summit Villas apartment complex. Both said they were frustrated by an apparent lack of progress on those fronts.

Brooksville housing board Vice-chairman Jim Brooks said the authority is “in good working order and has more than enough money to pay the bills,” and will be submitting information this week to the county authority to show that.

It will be up to the courts to decide the Lane lawsuit, Brooks said. Brenda Williams, a consultant hired by HUD and working as interim executive director at the Brooksville authority, has another 60 days on her contract.

Brooks said he hopes the two boards can come to a solution before then so the authority does not have to hire an executive director, which he said would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or [email protected]

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