Audit says authority is plagued by mismanagement
The St. Charles Parish Housing Authority has been ordered to repay more than $600,000 because they did not verify the income of those receiving subsidized housing payments and allowed unsafe conditions to persist in Section 8 properties, according to a recent federal audit.
The audit reveals 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.
Due to the problems with the payments not being processed correctly, the auditor has asked that the St. Charles Parish Housing Authority repay a total of $605,575. In addition, they are requesting new procedures be implemented to properly train staff and that better management strategies be undertaken.
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. Out of those violations, 185 had been identified in previous inspections but were never corrected.
In one instance, a tenant sent a letter to the Housing Authority complaining of several safety violations including an air conditioner that had been broken for 100 days, insect infestations, rotting door frames and piers that had sunken into the ground underneath the home causing it to lean to one side. The audit reports that the tenant eventually left the home, but the Housing Authority never took any actions to improve his living conditions.
The audit went so far as to accuse St. Charles Parish Housing Director Leala Jackson of not providing proper oversight by missing errors that were found in the audit.
“The executive director had not established a written policy for the reviews that included procedures such as how to detect errors, the required frequency of the reviews, or the number of files or elements that should be reviewed,” the audit reads.
In addition, the audit found Jackson, who has been with the Housing Authority for 21 years, did not have access to or know how to use the voucher program system, which is used to manage tenants and finances. She also hasn’t attended quality standards training since 2007.
The St. Charles Parish Housing Authority is controlled by a board made up of members appointed solely by the St. Charles parish president. However, the parish administration does not have direct input into everyday functioning of the board.
Buddy Boe, St. Charles Parish’s chief administrative officer, said HUD is working with the Housing Authority and is allowing them to retroactively produce documentation to reduce the total amount they may have to pay. However, if that amount is not reduced it could cause severe funding problems.
“It cannot be paid back with grant funds and most of the money they have are federal dollars. It can’t be paid back with those funds so it would be a real problem,” Boe said.
Boe added that the Housing Authority Board is intent on making changes to keep similar situations from recurring.
“The board is looking at restructuring the staff and putting some additional support in to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future,” he said.
Jackson did not respond to requests for comment.