Audit slams city housing program

An audit of one of Augusta's housing programs funded by the federal government found that the city's controls over the program were inadequate.

 

The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that more than $1 million in the city's HOME program involved questioned costs and money the city could lose.

The June 9 audit report recommended that the city prove the money in its HOME program was properly spent or repay $566,697 in questioned costs and lose $477,373 because of program violations.

The money would be repaid from funds that flow to the housing department from the federal government if it is available. If not, the city would be liable.

The audit found that the housing department did not:

- Properly commit $755,284.

- Have proper documentation to support project approvals and address project performance delays.

- Properly maintain and manage program staff.

- Ensure proper documentation of more than $196,657.

Augusta's Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler said the audit findings are preliminary and he would meet with officials in HUD's Atlanta Office of Community Planning and Development before a final report is issued. He said the audit covers the period from 2003 through the first part of 2007, and that he did not become director until April 2007. The audit report states the audit is part of the activities in the fiscal year 2007 annual audit plan.

However, one member of the Housing Department's Citizens Advisory Board, which Mr. Wheeler refused to meet with and succeeded in disbanding after he became director last year, said regardless of what year the monies were allocated, it was Mr. Wheeler's job to make sure the funds were reprogrammed and spent in a timely fashion.

"Nobody in that department should be allowed to pass the buck," said former board member Barbara Gordon. "And it comes as no surprise to me that that department is in trouble again."

The advisory board was appointed by commissioners to provide oversight of the department, Ms. Gordon said.

"We were supposed to be the eyes and ears for the commission," she said. "Chester Wheeler is trying to run everything by himself."

Mr. Wheeler said the inspector general's interpretation of the requirement that the city spend HOME funds within 24 months is not in sync with the Atlanta Office of Community Planning's interpretation.

"I say that because we were audited by the Atlanta office last year, and we received no findings regarding timeliness," he said.

The audit was designed to determine whether the city complied with HOME program requirements for commitments, completion of project activities and eligibility and proof of project costs.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.