HUD to probe housing scandal

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek demanded three sweeping federal investigations of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency on Tuesday, saying ``political manipulation and interference, incompetent management, and corruption'' have destroyed neighborhoods and stymied the construction of badly needed homes for the poor.

In written requests, Meek called on the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Government Accountability Office - the investigative arm of Congress - to probe the Housing Agency's handling of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Meek, D-Miami, started talking to the GAO last week, and said officials were "very interested" in pursuing an investigation.

On Tuesday, HUD Inspector General Kenneth Donohue flew to Miami to meet with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Late Tuesday, county officials confirmed that HUD will launch an investigation.

The moves come one week after The Miami Herald's investigative report, House of Lies, detailed massive mismanagement and misspending at the Housing Agency, including a high-profile project launched six years ago with a $35 million HUD grant.

Flush with federal money, the Housing Agency closed two decrepit public-housing complexes in Liberty City, relocated more than 800 families and promised to build 411 new homes. Six years later, $22 million has been spent and only three houses built.

Meek asked the GAO to evaluate HUD's oversight of the project, recover misspent federal money and root out criminal activity. He asked U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta to initiate a criminal investigation, and the HUD inspector general to evaluate the way HUD monitored the Liberty City project.

"We have a housing crisis in Miami-Dade County and we have to make sure that we have every dollar going toward bricks and mortar and helping people make themselves whole,'' Meek said Tuesday.

The Housing Agency's handling of money is also under investigation by the state attorney's office and the county inspector general. Amid The Miami Herald's stories, County Manager George Burgess ousted six Housing Agency officials as well as the former director of the agency.

In a four-part series, The Miami Herald found that the Housing Agency paid developers millions of dollars for affordable-housing projects that have never been built. With approval from county commissioners, the agency also dipped into a fund earmarked to build homes for the poor to finance the construction of a new office complex.

Much of the money in question came from a local construction fund created in 1983 by Meek's mother, former Congresswoman Carrie Meek.

Using money from taxes paid on commercial-property sales, Miami-Dade became the first county in Florida to give construction loans to developers willing to build affordable homes.

Last week, Burgess moved that fund from the Housing Agency to the county's finance department - which will track the public money and create safeguards.

Said Cynthia Curry, senior advisor to Burgess: "We will get past this so we can start to actually develop affordable housing.''