PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

October 1, 2012

PA Housing Authority making strides despite ‘disheartening situation’

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Port Arthur Housing Authority Executive Director Seledonio “Cele” Quesada has not seen this kind of need for public housing since the mid-80s. And right now, he said, the need is even more distressing.

“It’s a sign of the times,” he said.

Even folks who are working and earning minimum wage have gotten evicted and need help. Imagine the families who were already having a hard time, Quesada said.

“It’s a disheartening situation,” he said in the shade of one of the buildings at the Carver Terrace Apartments Friday morning, “and we see it firsthand.”

Within the last three to six years, the PAHA has made strides in developing better and more affordable public housing in the area, Quesada said. The slew of hurricanes did deter some development, like at Carver Terrace, and it has taken some time for the housing authority to get its plans for the complex rolling again. But the 60-year-old salmon-colored complex would likely be demolished next spring if PAHA’s plans are approved by the Housing and Urban Development Department.

But the housing authority has handled more than natural disasters. PAHA has been plagued by two HUD Office of Inspector General audits since 2009. It had to return $657,906 of federal funding as a result of the first audit.

The second audit reported that the PAHA questionably spent almost $6 million from Jan. 1, 2009, through Dec. 31, 2010. And if that was not enough, the authority had spent $112,608 on legal services and $11,223 on “additional help” as of July 31 in response to the most recent audit report, according to PAHA operating statements.

Nonetheless, the housing authority still operates its Low Rent Public Housing Program and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. The public housing program is available to people with low income — at or below 30 percent of the area median income — and rent for public housing must not be more than 40 percent of a person’s monthly income, according to a HUD program overview.

The PAHA assists over 302 households with an average monthly rent of $458, according to the PAHA website.

Through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, the PAHA provides monthly assistance to families that have been accepted to the program. The monthly payments help cover the cost of mortgage payments for up to ten years, Quesada said, so the “working poor have the opportunity to be homeowners.”

The PAHA also works with the city of Port Arthur and various properties to provide rental assistance through Community Development Block Grants. HUD provides annual grants to cities with a population of at least 50,000, according to the HUD program guide. The amount of the grant is determined by a formula that takes into account community need, including poverty, population, housing overcrowding, age of housing and growth lag.

Nationwide, HUD and its local public housing authorities have helped 1.8 million people through housing choice vouchers, public housing programs and other initiatives, according to the program guide.

The National Housing Act of 1934 created the Federal Housing Administration to improve housing standards and provide a mutual mortgage insurance system. The United States Housing Act of 1937 created the public housing program, but it was the Housing Act of 1949 that created grant programs to assist local and state governments with their own housing initiatives. The Department of Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 established the department to adequately provide federal assistance for housing and community development, according to the guide.

bcrum@panews.com