Homestead mayor replaces members of housing board

06/20/2014 3:46 PM

06/20/2014 3:47 PM

Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter has replaced four of the seven board members of the city’s embattled housing authority.

“There’s been some controversy in that board for awhile,” said Porter, who was elected in November. “There is some house-cleaning that needs to be done.”

In 2011, a federal audit revealed mismanagement of the authority’s properties and demanded a third-party management firm be brought in. The authority, which provides apartments for farm workers and other low-income people, is funded mainly by the federal agriculture and housing departments.

The authority recently tried to resume self-management, but the USDA nixed the plan.

The authority is not a part of the Homestead city government – its properties are outside city limits – but Homestead’s mayor is the only one that can appoint board members.

Named to the board on Wednesday were fruit-grove owner and pastor Russell Black, diver Michael David Scott Goodman, educator and counselor Gerard Berrouet, and farm worker Maria Rocha.

Contractor David Berrones, teacher’s aide Marta Torres and nursery owner Arturo De Leon are all out. Former Homestead mayor Steve Bateman appointed them all in April 2010, and their terms expired this April. Tuesday’s appointments will fill those seats, as well as one vacancy on the board.

Berrones said he accepted Porter’s decision.

“He’s the one who chooses who goes on the committee,” Berrones said. “I don’t have no control over that. If they don’t think I did a job, then it’s for somebody else to make it better.”

Still on the board are retiree Lois Jones, attorney Carmen Rodriguez and finance executive Audelia Martinez. Porter re-appointed Jones and appointed Rodriguez to the board in February, and their terms expire in 2018. Porter declined to say whether he would replace Martinez, who was also appointed by Bateman in 2010, when her term expires this September.

Jones, who was first appointed to the board by then-Homestead mayor Lynda Bell, has been roundly critical of her colleagues for years, and in particular of their decision in 2011 to hire current the authority’s executive director, Oscar Hentschel, who had no experience in public housing, over 23 other candidates who met the minimum required qualifications.

“The Housing Authority is prepared to join the mayor and council … to truly dedicate ourselves to making every taxpayer dollar count,” Jones said on Thursday. “Our goal is to open the HHA to the scrutiny of the people by educating them on the work of the Authority.”

She added that she planned on hosting a well-publicized open house to explain to community members what the housing authority does with its roughly $20 million budget, and that she would make sure the board actually advertises its regular meetings to the public in advance.

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