Housing director resigns after audit cites mismanagement

Authority ordered to pay back $600,000

The director of the St. Charles Parish Housing Authority has stepped down on the heels of federal and state audits that slammed the agency for mismanagement and requested repayment of more than $600,000.

Both audits were completed when Leala Jackson was serving as the director of the St. Charles Parish Housing Authority. Jackson recently resigned as director, citing health issues. Jackson has been an employee of the Housing Authority for more than 20 years and will stay on in a decreased role as a program manager.

Tyrell Cornwell, chairwoman of the St. Charles Parish Housing Authority, is currently serving as interim director and a nationwide search is underway to find a permanent director.

In the latest audit, released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, it was revealed that some applicants for housing assistance were moved to the front of a long list of names and received placement before others who had already qualified for assistance.

In fact, three applicants who had been admitted to the housing assistance program were never on the waiting list and two others were on the list, but were admitted before those in front of them.

In all cases the audit found no documented explanation of why certain applicants were admitted to the housing assistance program before those who should have received the assistance first.

Cornwell said the waiting list for those seeking assistance is rather long and that she could not comment on individual cases.

“I couldn’t say what the average wait is. It is a very long waiting list,” she said.

Cornwell said that some applicants do receive preference over others and the issue was most likely related to inadequate documentation.

“If you have a job or are handicapped, those are things that can move you above anyone,” she said.

Cornwell said whatever occurred that allowed those applicants to bypass others in the waiting list, she is sure it was not a case of favoritism.

“There is no preference given other than what is written in the guidelines,” she said.

The auditor offered a corrective action so that there are no unexplained jumps to the front of the waiting list in the future.

“In regards to the waiting list, more care should be made of making sure that explanations are documented for folks ahead on the list that were not admitted before the applicant that moves in,” the audit reads.

The state audit also backs up findings of mismanagement revealed in a federal audit released earlier this year.

That audit revealed that through lapses in Housing Authority management,  $570,834 in housing payments were made that were not supported by proper documentation, including not verifying participants’ income to ensure they were eligible for the grants. The Housing Authority also paid $16,350 to people who should not have received the money and spent $18,391 on unsafe properties that did not meet Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards.

The federal audit ordered the St. Charles Parish Housing Authority to repay that money, which amounts to more than $600,000.

Additionally, the audit found that several Section 8 properties were unsafe. In all, inspections of 14 units found 13 did not meet HUD standards and had 191 health and safety violations combined.

In an attempt to decrease the amount they have been asked to pay back, Cornwell and Housing Authority staff are currently going through each case in which income verification was not properly documented. They will present their findings to the federal auditor within the next week at which point they anticipate the amount they have been requested to repay will be greatly decreased.

“What we are doing is taking each file and looking at what the findings were. There were numerous corrections we have found. We have to meet with them next week to reduce the overall fines,” she said.

Cornwell agreed with the findings of both audits and  said the issues were largely due to documentation not being properly passed on to officials.

“[The auditors] have a job, but their goal isn’t to cripple anybody. They are just making sure everybody is doing what they are supposed to do with the public’s money,” she said. “That is our goal as well.”

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