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Homestead housing agency fires outside management firm

Two years ago, a scathing federal audit urged the Homestead Housing Authority to hire an outside company to manage its apartments for farm workers.

The federally funded authority complied, bringing in Cincinnati-based Nelson & Associates.

But on Thursday night, the authority’s board voted 4-0 to dismiss the firm a year before its contract runs out.

“We are disappointed that you took this action. We wanted to complete this contract,” said Ramona Nelson, founder and president of Nelson & Associates, told the board.

Some board members said that the homes the authority manages need more work, such as resurfacing, and the HHA wanted to use the money it pays Nelson & Associates to fix up these homes.

“There are a lot of things that we do need at the different camp sites. This will save us money to address the needs that are out there. We need the money,” said board member Marta Torres.

As part of its 2011 report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the HHA should hire an outside organization to put the agency’s business back in order. Nelson & Associates was selected from several companies that applied in early 2012.

“We didn’t want to go into a management company, but we didn’t have a choice,” HHA Board Chairwoman Audelia Martinez said at the meeting. “We think Nelson & Associates have done a good job. … Now, it’s time to hold Oscar (Hentschel) accountable. He has to do his job.”

Hentschel is agency’s executive director. He was hired in March 2011. The move to hire him was widely criticized because of his lack of experience and his close ties to some board members. But many of the mismanagement troubles mentioned in the USDA’s report predate his tenure.

The board also approved a transition plan that details how the organization will move back to self-management with Hentschel as the executive director. The details of this plan were not immediately made available to the Miami Herald.

Nelson & Associates will continue to serve as HHA’s property manager until May 1. Its contract was scheduled to end April 2015.

“We came in here under very trying times but we definitely turned it around,” Nelson told the Miami Herald after the meeting. “There was much left to do.”

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