HUD takeover in Cairo (WEB ONLY)

HUD officials Stephen Schneller and Towanda Macon brief ACHA employees on Monday morning about the federal government's immediate takeover. 

Provided by HUD

For years the Board of Commissioners of the Alexander County Housing Authority has been on a collision course with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The authority paid its executive directors lavishly, provided annual “performance bonuses” to all employees, and paid tens of thousands for expensive junkets for employees and board members. At one point, they even hired an executive director who lacked the required college degree and who had previously pleaded guilty to financial crimes.

This past Aug. 28, the ACHA entered into a voluntary compliance agreement with HUD, which required the board to correct a laundry list of offensives and oversights. It did not. And while failing to eradicate pest infestations, provide mold remediation or correct plumbing and electrical deficiencies, the board did knowingly and willfully hire an executive director last month against the express directive of HUD and the voluntary compliance agreement.

Meanwhile, the physical conditions for residents at the Elmwood, McBride and Smith apartments continued to deteriorate.

In the same week in which the ACHA Board hired Executive Director Jason Ashmore at a meeting that violated the Open Meetings Act, it received another letter from HUD. In the letter, HUD stated that the housing authority had:

– Failed to submit a plan to open up the Connell F. Smith Sr. low-rise building to people with disabilities;

– Failed to canvass McBride and Elmwood complexes — the apartments in the worst condition — to identify families to be placed on a wait list to move to complexes in better condition;

– Failed to schedule time for a lease enforcement officer to visit the Elmwood and McBride properties daily; and

– Failed to review maintenance employee assignments to ensure that pay and agreements were equitable.

The board also failed to take corrective action regarding a civil rights violation of spending less on maintenance at Elmwood and McBride, the complexes that predominantly house black residents.

For the six months since the ACHA entered into the voluntary compliance agreement with HUD, it seemed hell-bent on ignoring those things that they needed to correct while moving with undue haste to do the very things expressly prohibited.

HUD provided the board of commissioners with numerous warnings and was fairly explicit throughout in documenting deficiencies and prescribing solutions. HUD gave the board time — perhaps too much time — to remedy things. And it failed miserably. Not in a “we tried our best and didn’t quite get there” sort of a way, but with an indifferent “we know better than they do” attempt to preserve its tidy little status quo.

Monday, HUD ran out of patience. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Lourdes Castro Ramirez’s letter to ACHA Board Chairman Andy Clarke expressed that sentiment with great vehemence. Ramirez stated that the letter served as HUD’s notice that the ACHA was in “substantial default of its obligations.” It went on to say that “the ACHA will not be afforded a 10-day period to demonstrate HUD’s determination is not substantively accurate nor will HUD provide the ACHA the opportunity to respond to this written determination.” In the final sentence of the two-page letter, Ramirez closes with, “As an initial step and effective immediately, the Board of Commissioners and its individual members are hereby removed and relieved of their duties as commissioners.”

It appears as though commissioners considered HUD warnings as a threat. With a resounding “you’re fired,” they on Monday realized that it was really a promise, a promise to all current and future residents of the Alexander County Housing Authority.

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