Saturday, October 20, 2007

TOP STORY >>Housing group out of trouble

IN SHORT: The new director is praised as the Jacksonville agency is no longer in violation of federal rules on spending and turnover rates.

Leader staff writer

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified the Jacksonville Housing Authority on Monday that the agency is no longer in trouble with the federal agency.

JHA, which gets much of its funding from HUD, was placed on the troubled list in February for violating federal guidelines and was removed from the list at the end of September after complying with spending rules and requirements.

“It is a rare feat to be removed from troubled status within less than a year,” said chairman Jim Durham.The Real Estate Assessment Center, a division of HUD that evaluates housing authorities with a report card, made the assessment after JHA made several improvements in its operations.

There are four parts to an REAC report — an independent inspection of housing authority facilities, a management assessment by an authority, a financial assessment of the authority and a survey of residents living at its Max Howell Place housing units.

Phil Nix, JHA executive director, commended the JHA staff and board members for their work.

“We’ve come a long way with the staff that was willing to learn,” Nix said.

“At JHA we corrected the required policies and procedures with the capital funds programs by having money obligated for capital projects before HUD deadlines,” he explained.

“We also lowered the turnover rate of the housing units from vacancy to occupancy. Before it was taking 60 to 90 days to get an apartment ready to rent, and we’ve got that down to REAC’s required 20 days,” Nix said.

“Phil’s knowledge is great. He has sent the staff to training seminars and has given us the right tools to follow the rules and regulations to get the job done correctly,” said Gisela Williams, JHA Section 8 administrator, a federal housing subsidy. Section 8 is a HUD voucher program for housing assistance.

Nix was hired in January by a newly appointed board of directors, with Jim Durham as chairman and Mike Wilkinson as vice chairman, to oversee the JHA’s daily operations after last year’s critical review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD had asked for the records of contracts and work orders for more than $132,000 spent by the authority that were not properly awarded.

While on the troubled list, HUD sent specialists to Max Howell Place to oversee the agency. If the JHA had not come off the troubled list within two years, HUD could have taken over the authority.

The next goal for the JHA is to move from the standard performer list to the high performer list.

Durham said, “As a high performer, HUD will allow JHA to apply for grants for capital funds.”

The money would be available for improvements to Max Howell Place. The concrete work on the sidewalks to make the playground handicap-accessible is complete.

Nixon told board members there were two evictions from the housing units at Max Howell Place. One eviction was for non-payment of rent.

The other eviction was for illegal drug use. The renter was arrested by Jacksonville police at the Jacksonville Wal-Mart parking lot.

After the meeting Nix said, “We follow the federal standard on drugs. One strike and you’re out, even if anyone in the household on the lease is arrested (on drugs).”