New public housing boss says feds find IHA “in automatic violation”

Indianapolis Housing Agency

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — When John E. Hall rode in to Indianapolis from Kansas last month to take over the city’s troubled public housing agency, he had been warned to expect problems, but the challenge was greater than he anticipated.

“Is it worse than you expected when you first got here?” Hall was asked.

“There’s always more to the story than you know when you arrive,” answered Hall, “so, yes, is the short answer.”

Six weeks into Mayor Joe Hogsett’s six month mandate to turn around the Indianapolis Housing Agency, Hall told his recently appointed board of commissioners that the report he was about to give Tuesday afternoon was, “not very good.”

On the Agenda:

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development could put IHA into receivership for mismanagement of its Section 8 housing voucher program.
  • HUD found IHA conducted impermissible funds transfers that will result in a $1.3 million repayment to the federal government.
  • The agency missed a deadline for funding in its Family Self Sufficiency program and owes Washington $36,000. Hall will need to personally review 340 case files of residents in the program.
  • IHA’s uncollectable back rent could total $200,000.
  • 100 additional unoccupied apartments have been discovered that no one knew about and could result in reimbursement of collected rent subsidies to the federal government.
  • IHA staffers had a 96% failure rate in calculating rents in the Section 8 housing voucher program, which likely resulted in over or under-payments of monthly rent amounts by both residents and the agency.
  • HUD found IHA was in “automatic violation of federal regulations” of public housing systems and procedures, and that the State Board of Accounts determined IHA was past due in its accounting reports.
  • The agency is behind schedule in finding housing for disabled persons.
  • IHA is non-compliant with rules requiring the hiring of residents and minority contractors for projects.
  • Its potential waiting list of more than 100,000 people who are seeking public housing may be highly inaccurate and in need of reconciliation.
  • Hall is trying to turn around an agency after years of mismanagement, and is in need of a chief financial officer and chief operating officer to work by his side.

“There’s a lot to get my arms around,” said Hall after delivering the bad news to his board, “but we’re on schedule, though I think I need to press the accelerator a little bit more.”

IHA is responsible for providing subsidized shelter for 22,000 Marion County residents through its apartment complexes and Section 8 voucher program.

Hall is looking to expand the voucher program by 1000 residences next year and add more housing for the homeless.

More than 90% of IHA’s projected 2019 budget of $75 million comes from the federal government.

“Everything works and comes back to finances,” he said. “So if we have lower occupancy, we are still allowing residents to stay where they are without paying. All of that affects us financially at the end of the day.”

To make its budget work, IHA needs to meet HUD’s standard of 97% occupancy.

Currently, IHA’s occupancy rate has slumped to 89.65%, which is lower than previous agency administrations have reported.

Many of those empty apartments were not discovered or reflected on the books until Hall assigned crews to walk each IHA property and account for every occupied or abandoned unit.

“Well, having one hundred units vacant that we weren’t aware of was pretty astounding to me,” Hall said. “In my opinion, our property management team, that includes our maintenance workers as well as our property managers, should be on the site. They should know their properties inside and out.”

Abandoned apartments that still carried on the books as occupied could result in either IHA or the residents being held responsible for paying back federal rent subsidies.

While staff is expected to know their properties, Hall said it’s apparent the IHA Section 8 administrators flunked their job performance ratings.

“In our Section 8 housing choice voucher program specifically, I found out we have a 96% error rate. That’s a 96% error rate.

“Tenant rent calculations were calculated incorrectly, so at the end of the day, it means a couple of things: either the agency is paying too much to the landlord on behalf of the tenant and the tenant should be paying more, or it means that the agency could have possibly been helping more people than it has because of miscalculated rents.”

Hall said he has asked HUD for technical assistance and more time to stave off federal oversight of parts of his agency.

On the upside, Hall reported that more than 99% of IHA’s surveillance cameras are now operational.

Recent statistics show that crime has fallen by 42% at some of the agency’s largest properties, where Hall has demanded more accountability from his managers.

Two of IHA’s largest communities, Barton Tower and Barton Annex, along with Concord Village, are on the verge of management takeover by private lenders.

Mayor Hogsett told CBS4 that he was fairly confident Hall would find mismanagement at IHA but has seen no evidence to indicate criminal activities.

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