The Homestead Housing Authority continues to get slapped down by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its efforts to self-manage about 300 units of farmworker housing.
The USDA provides rental assistance for the apartments.
Recurring themes in the USDA’s refusals are the authority’s executive director Oscar Hentschel’s lack of public housing credentials and incomplete paperwork. The federal agency’s latest denial, issued last month, also argues the money the housing authority promised to save as a result of self-management is not accounted for properly.
“A review of the proposed budget … doesn’t show the $180,000 savings (as stated in the letter of April 24, 2014) which would be the result of self-managing the properties,” states a June 24 letter from USDA area director Angela Prioleau to Hentschel.
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“Instead, the Homestead Housing Authority is proposing a reduction in the current management fee, from $49 to $45 per occupied unit per month,” the letter continues, calculating this reduction would amount to only $23,000 in savings.
The letter also says that although the budget narrative promises to use $98,000 in management fee funds for capital purchases, “there is … no guarantee that the funds will be used as proposed, as the line item in the budget is for management fees, and use would be completely discretionary.”
Prioleau’s letter details a slew of incomplete or incorrect calculations, including a $40,000 alleged miscalculation in insurance costs. The letter also reiterates that nobody listed on the proposed management team, including Hentschel, has the required two years of experience in housing.
Hentschel said “yes of course,” the HHA would be continuing to work toward self-management, and that an appeals hearing had been scheduled for Aug. 27. He would not comment on the particular points of Prioleau’s letter, saying only he was preparing a response.
The HHA first handed control of the farmworker housing units over to outside management company Nelson & Associates in 2012, after a blistering federal audit in 2011 revealed the housing authority had grossly mismanaged the properties since at least 2006. Most of the cited problems predate the current staff, including Hentschel.
In January, the HHA board voted to transition to self-management and dismiss Nelson & Associates a year before its contract was to expire, with complete self-management starting May 1. In late March the HHA received word from the new USDA area director that they were never granted formal approval to self-manage. When the HHA filed an application to do so, the USDA denied it in less than two weeks. In an emergency meeting just days before it was to commence self-management, the HHA board voted to re-hire the outside management firm.
Michael Goodman, one of four new HHA board members appointed in June by Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter, said the HHA should follow whatever USDA directives come from the Aug. 27 hearing.
“[Mrs. Prioleau] seems like she has some viable, some reasonable reasons we should not self-manage, and I guess we should just let their judiciary make that decision for us,” he said Friday.
HHA board member Lois Jones has been loudly critical of her colleagues on the housing authority board, especially of their decision in March 2011 to appoint Hentschel at the head of the agency over 23 other candidates who had experience in public housing.
“The letter seems to indicate that the team that Oscar Hentschel has put together just doesn’t have the experience necessary, and I agree to that. Because for anyone to take on managing the USDA program, they should be highly talented, they should have really a lot of experience, and these people don’t,” she said after the HHA’s last meeting on Tuesday.