, Port Arthur, Texas

March 23, 2013

Senator praises HUD's oversight of PAHA

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Dietrich Barrier does not like living like this.

Her apartment in the Carver Terrace Apartments on the West Side of Port Arthur, where she resides with her three young children, has not been sprayed for roaches or other pests for who-knows-how-long, she said. And the property managers have not been enforcing curfew.

“People do what they want to do,” Dietrich, 27, said.

And by “people,” Dietrich means the Port Arthur Housing Authority, the entity that maintains the public housing complex just a whiff of chemical wind from the Valero Port Arthur Refinery.

Last week, PAHA paid some of its dues that resulted from a June 1 federal audit that called into question the spending of nearly $6 million. The Housing and Urban Development Department Houston Field Office informed PAHA Feb. 28 that it would have to repay approximately $1.5 million in non-federal funds. And it did, said Patricia Campbell, spokeswoman for HUD Region VI.

PAHA shifted the $1.5 million from profits it has earned through tax credit developments with private partners, such as Valley View Estates and Bellbrook Estates, into federal public housing programs. And it met its 10-day deadline, Campbell said.

The Houston HUD Field Office and Office of Inspector General is reviewing PAHA’s response to the letter to determine if it provided sufficient information or if further corrective action would be necessary, Campbell said.

“HUD’s oversight of housing authority spending has been almost nonexistent. It’s good to see the agency’s involvement in recouping misspent taxpayer dollars in Port Arthur,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in a statement. “Federal funding for housing authorities is meant to provide safe, clean, affordable housing for those in need, not to serve housing authority employees and board members or otherwise go to waste.”

But that Feb. 28 letter only addressed six of 24 corrective actions suggested by the Regional Inspector General for Audit in Fort Worth, who conducted the June 1 audit, Campbell said. The other actions had already been addressed or needed more documentation to be satisfied.

Seledonio “Cele” Quesada, PAHA executive director, said that this was the first time the housing authority had heard back from HUD or the OIG about the audit since its release and could not confirm if PAHA had addressed the other 18 corrective actions suggested in the June 1 audit.

But the Feb. 28 letter — signed by Director of Public Housing Daniel Rodriguez Jr. — thanks the housing authority for submitting additional documents Jan. 18 “addressing the outstanding corrective actions in the” audit. Quesada said PAHA had not submitted materials since September.

And yet this effort of rectification will allow the housing authority to move forward with its plans to relocate Carver Terrace residents and redevelop new public housing units throughout the city, according to a PAHA press release. The estimated cost for the redevelopment was $39 million with $20.5 million of that coming in anticipated hurricane relief funds through the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission in Beaumont.

“HUD needs to continue its oversight of the Port Arthur Housing Authority as it moves forward with a $39 million redevelopment plan, much of which will be done with federal taxpayer dollars,” Grassley said. “That oversight should include pressing the housing authority for openness and transparency about its business in the interest of public accountability.”


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