Error-laden Charlotte housing audit comes to surface

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by GAVIN OFF / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on November 24, 2012 at 4:45 PM

More than four years ago, an independent assessment found a litany of errors in a Charlotte Housing Authority program that might have allowed criminals or those earning too much to qualify for public housing.

But authority officials never reported the unflattering Section 8 audit to the board members in charge of governing the authority.

The board learned of the assessment this year only after a former employee leaked it, said board member Will Miller.

“We realized what our staff had been telling us and what the independent third party told us had been different,” Miller said.

In 2008, Washington D.C.-based Quadel Consulting audited the authority’s Section 8 program, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

The voucher program uses federal dollars to help low-income residents pay rent. In general, a family’s income must be less than 50 percent of the area’s median income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Deborah Clark, spokeswoman for the Charlotte Housing Authority, said most of Charlotte’s voucher recipients have jobs. Those who don’t are typically elderly.

The audit found several program flaws, including some records that were inaccurate or incomplete more than half of the time.

Clark said the Quadel study was probably an internal effort by senior management at the time to assess the skills of staff members within the voucher program.

She said it was unclear whether administrators had taken steps to correct the problems.

A second study could provide the answers.

Quadel will begin a new assessment next week and will share its results with the board, Clark said.

Miller said the board called for the follow-up after learning of the old audit. This review will cost $66,700, and will assess the authority’s voucher and public housing programs.

2008 assessment

The main purpose of the 2008 report, and the reasons it was not shared with the board, are unclear because roughly 10 senior administrators within the housing authority have left in recent years, Clark said.

The departed include the former Section 8 director, Bill Walters; chief operating officer, Troy White and chief executive officer, Charles Woodyard, who now heads Chicago’s public housing program.

“Those questions can’t be answered because no one’s here,” Clark said. “The people who are here that were here at the time (of the Quadel audit) were not involved with the report. They don’t know the who, why, when.”

According to a report summary, Quadel examined more than 50 areas of the authority’s voucher program. The audit focused on records involving voucher applicants, property owners and buildings.

Quadel scored the housing authority below 70 percent on 24 questions. One question could not be scored because of insufficient data.

For example:

• 60 percent of the reviewed files did not contain the necessary form stating that a criminal background check was conducted and passed.

• 64 percent of the files had errors involving the participant’s annual adjusted income.

• 98 percent failed to include complete documentation involving the property owner.

The summary ended, “Each of the 120 files reviewed contained at least one error.”

Meanwhile, the authority, a nonprofit that provides housing to low- and moderate-income families, told the federal government a different story.

HUD allows housing authorities to self-report performance grades for their voucher program.

The year the audit began, the housing authority gave itself a 99, resulting in HUD classifying Charlotte as a “high” performer.

High self-reported scores also led HUD to award the Charlotte Housing Authority a Moving to Work designation.

The designation gives Charlotte more autonomy to design and implement local strategies to help low-income families.

It also exempts the authority from some federal public housing rules and puts Charlotte among the first in line when federal dollars become available.

Because of the designation, the housing authority no longer has to provide HUD with grades concerning its $43.8 million voucher program, said Joe Phillips, HUD spokesman.

Phillips said 35 of the roughly 4,000 public housing authorities in the U.S. have received a Moving to Work designation.

Clark, the housing authority spokeswoman, did not question the accuracy of the Quadel study or the scores the housing authority provided HUD.

While the two groups researched many of the same issues, it’s possible they randomly chose different voucher program files.

Clark said there are more than 4,000 people in the housing authority’s voucher program.

“It’s not that they were wrong or we were wrong,” Clark said.

Although it’s unknown if former authority leadership sent the audit to the federal government, Miller said he doubts it and doubts HUD would have given the authority the Moving to Work designation if the report went public.

Miller and David Jones are the board’s only members who served at the time of the Quadel report.

The board consists of seven members, two appointed by the mayor and five appointed by the Charlotte City Council.

Attempts to reach former senior administrators at the authority were unsuccessful.

Charlotte’s current CEO, A. Fulton Meachem Jr., took the job in October after leading the Pittsburgh Housing Authority.

Dan Page, who chaired the authority’s board around the time Quadel began its audit, knew nothing of the $33,300 study, he said.

Current chair Joel Ford, who was elected to the North Carolina Senate this month, learned of the report this year.

“Things like this can happen,” Ford said. “It’s a very thin line from being a board member and allowing the CEO to manage the authority and being a board member and micro-managing the authority.”

Ford said that administrators did not need board approval for the 2008 assessment because the report cost less than $50,000.
 

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