The Homestead Housing Authority was urged in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to hire a third-party company to manage its federally subsidized farmworker housing after a blistering audit revealed chronic mismanagement. The agency complied, bringing in the Ohio-based firm Nelson & Associates — but spent the better part of last year in an unsuccessful campaign to win back self-management.
The common thread in the USDA’s repeated denials of the HHA’s requests for self-management: that nobody proposed to take charge of the project, including the HHA’s executive director, had adequate public housing experience.
Now with new executive director Shane White at the helm, some HHA commissioners say it’s time to put self-management back on the agenda.
“We need to get back to the business that we’re here for,” HHA board member Russell Black said at the agency’s meeting last Thursday.
The Nelson & Associates contract expires March 31 and is up for a two-year renewal. Black said he didn’t think it would be feasible to spring for self-management by April, but proposed instead that the agency should consider renewing the contract for one year instead of two.
According to Black, self-management would mean an annual savings of $180,000 for the agency.
Others, like board member Lois Jones, said that the HHA had to look beyond the $180,000 the management company now gets for its services.
“We used to have a deputy executive director,” she said. “There will be cost. We can’t expect Shane and the staff that we have right now to do the work.”
White concurred, telling the board the agency was running at capacity and was in no position to take over the USDA properties right now.
Aside from the USDA-subsidized properties, the HHA also administers a Section 8 voucher program, oversees construction on new USDA-funded farmworker housing, and manages a self-funded affordable housing complex for farmworkers.
“My suggestion to the board would be that we renew for two years,” he said.
HHA chairman Michael Goodman said he wasn’t against the HHA self-managing, but that the previous administration’s single-minded pursuit of self-management might have contributed to certain things falling by the wayside.
High on White’s list of priorities right now: saving a $3 million USDA grant — earmarked to help build 30 townhome-style units for farmworkers — that previous administrations let languish for six years and that the federal agency recently said it wanted back. According to White, a request for a one-year clemency period to use the grant has been granted by the agency’s USDA area director and is winding its way to national USDA offices for final approval.
“Had we not so aggressively pursued self-management, we could have been putting farmworkers in safe, sanitary housing,” Goodman said. “That’s what we could have done, and I’m pretty ticked about it.”
A vote to renew Nelson and Associates’ contract failed 3-2, with Jones and Gerard Berrouet, who called the item, voting in favor, and Goodman, Black and Carmen Rodriguez voting against. Commissioners Maria Rocha and Marta Torres were not present.
A vote to renew the contract will likely come up again, with more than one commissioner stating that the vote was so sudden that they hadn’t yet seen the contract they would be renewing.
“My feeling is that we need to vote yes, but I need to see a contract,” Goodman told Berrouet.