March 17, 2006
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
Federal auditors have found that the
Hartford Housing Authority misspent millions of federal housing
dollars, using the money, among other things, to outsource a pricy
inspection contract and to pay private landlords for apartments
infested with cockroaches and rats.
The audit said that the authority also
improperly used money from the Section 8 voucher program to pay
staff salaries, auto insurance and "unreasonable rents'"
that were above fair market value.
Overall, a recent Housing and Urban
Development audit says that the Housing Authority's imprudence has
already wasted or was on a course to misspend up to $2.6 million.
The $2.6 million represents part actual misspending by the authority
between 2002 and 2005, and part calculation of money that could
be saved and "put to better use" in the future, according
to the audit of the Section 8 voucher program by the HUD Inspector
The inspector general is recommending
the authority repay about $1.7 million worth of unreasonable costs
to the voucher program, which subsidizes private apartment rentals
for more than 2,000 families in the city.
Housing authority officials say the
audit is exaggerated, in that it lumps money that was allegedly
misspent with money that could be theoretically misspent in the
future, should the housing authority continue its current practices.
"The headline is very misleading
on this one," said Courtney Anderson, chairman of the housing
Take the $594,270 worth of "unreasonable
rents" cited in the audit, for example.
HUD deduced that number by looking
at the files of 35 tenants who receive Section 8 voucher funds.
Of those, 10 were found to live in apartments with rent that exceeds
fair market value. Using that sample, auditors calculated that the
agency is on course to spend more than a half-million dollars in
"They took all those projections
and put them in this report," said Miriam Roane, director of
the housing choice voucher program for the Hartford Housing Authority.
But some of the audit numbers are not
The $614,000 of voucher money spent
on staff salaries is an example. That money went toward the salaries
of administrators and employees, such as Lancelot Gordon, the housing
authority's executive director, who devote time to various housing
authority programs, and therefore draw their salaries from portions
of each of those program's funds.
It's an accounting practice "that's
been done for over 20-something years but HUD has never questioned
it," said Allan Russell, the authority's finance director.
The same formula accounts for the $100,085
in "ineligible" auto insurance payments from the Section
8 voucher fund. That money, Anderson said, was used to cover auto
insurance on cars that are dedicated to several housing authority
programs, including Section 8.
In other findings, the housing authority
awarded a contract for housing inspections to Imagineers, a private
company that also administers the Section 8 voucher program in Hartford.
Imagineers was not the lowest bidder for the contract, the HUD audit
found. While the authority paid Imagineers $235,000 annually to
conduct inspections, it had on its staff two full-time inspectors
with little to do.
Overall, the audit determined that
the housing authority paid $158,492 more than it should have for
inspection services. The authority ended its contract with Imagineers,
and now uses its in-house inspectors to do all inspections of apartments
covered by Section 8 funds.
Also, the authority failed to conduct
required "quality control" inspections to ensure the reliability
of their hired inspectors' conclusions. When the housing authority
did do such follow-up inspections, it found substandard conditions
-broken smoke detectors, rodents and a cockroach infestation, broken
windows - in some apartments receiving Section 8 funds.
Still, the authority continued payments
of $11,604 in Section 8 funds to landlords of those substandard
Among other HUD findings:
The housing authority, because of inaccurate
data collection, over-reported the number of units it subsidizes
under the voucher program. As a result, the agency "improperly
received" $841,245 more voucher money from HUD than it was
Anderson said officials will meet with
HUD in the coming month to negotiate proper remedies to the problems.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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