Housing authority record-keeping questioned

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

The Tucumcari Housing Authority has come under scrutiny for its record keeping of public housing tenant files, tenant waiting lists, financial records and other matters associated with record keeping.

Before leaving the position as executive director of the authority, Heidi Fenton told the authority’s board on Sept. 27:

l “The Housing Authority had two inspections in the last month that reveals that the Housing Authority continues to have errors in many different areas, ie Chaparral, Section 8, and Public Housing. Following a site visit from USDA, they designated the Tucumcari Housing Authority as a ‘troubled property’ and a correction action plan for the deficiencies must be submitted in 45 days,” according to the minutes of the meeting.

At Thursday’s housing authority board meeting, members discussed whether it was necessary to conduct a fraud audit of the authority.
Following a September letter from officials of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development in Albuquerque, the city of Tucumcari has outlined a six-page list of corrective actions it will undertake to meet federal standards.

The list of corrective actions was prepared and signed off on by City Manager John Sutherland and sent to the Albuquerque office, according to a copy of the letter dated Nov. 5.

At Thursday afternoon’s Housing Authority meeting, Sutherland said he expected a reply from HUD to learn if the corrective actions were satisfactory.

“There have been several years of management inattention and consequently we find ourselves troubled,” Sutherland said on Friday
Without anyone at the authority’s helm for nearly a year, Sutherland has been taking a more active role in the management of the city’s public housing.

In May 2007, the authority’s longtime chief Robert Pacheco resigned. Pacheco had been out for several months previously for health reasons. In August, Fenton was selected as his replacement. Although Fenton was recognized for her efforts by board members, according to the board’s Sept. 27 minutes, she resigned a few days later.

On Friday, Fenton said, “The authority needs to get back into compliance and needs to make sure everyone is treated fairly.”
Fenton said she resigned, “so that the authority could hire someone with HUD experience and expertise so that they can get back into compliance.”

Fenton, who has experience in social work, was the center director of the Tucumcari Mental Health Resources office before working at the authority.

Robert Pacheco could not be reached on Friday for comment.

The authority has hired a new executive director, Wilhemina Martin, currently of Arizona, Sutherland said. Martin, who is a native of Logan, has experience as a property manager and has managed up to 600 units, Sutherland said.

“With aggressive management we are going to clean it up,” Sutherland said.

At the authority’s board meeting, board members asked the authority’s auditor, C. Jack Emmons of Accounting & Consulting Group, LLP of Albuquerque, if it was necessary to conduct a fraud audit.

Emmons told the board that before they spent additional money for a fraud audit that they should wait to see what comes of the audit because it may be that there are just bookkeeping problems.

For example, Emmons cited certain credit cards expenditures that may have raised questions but were found not to be posted correctly.
The board did not call for a fraud audit, but instructed Emmons to alert the board of any suspected improprieties as soon as possible during the auditing process.

City commissioner Jim Lafferty, who serves on the board, said the he wanted all the issues and financial tracking cleared up so that the new executive director would have all the tools necessary to succeed.

In related business, the authority’s board agreed:

• To hire a management firm for the Chaparral Apartments recommendation of federal officials with Rural Development from the USDA, which has oversight over the program. The Albuquerque-based property management firm, Monarch Properties Inc., which also manages the Quay Apartments in Tucumcari, is to manage the Chaparral for three years.

• To keep its “One Strike You’re Out” policy for tenants. The policy allows the authority to terminate a tenant’s participation in the program if it determines there is reasonable cause to believe that person is illegally using a controlled substance or engages in certain drug-related activities.

Sutherland said there have been problems with drugs at the units in public housing and a concerted effort is being made to clean up that problem.

Public housing is critical to Tucumcari because a large percentage of its population needs assistance, Sutherland said.

“We have to have public housing,” Sutherland said. “This program is a safety net for some people. It’s very important for the city.”

Tucumcari Housing Authority Quick Facts
Chapparal Apartments: 24 units
Public Housing: 90 units
(One unit is designated for use by a police officer)
Section 8 housing: 140 vouchers
Vouchers are given to individuals or families who meet certain federal income guidelines to pay for the rent of an apartment or house in the community.

FY2006 Finances
(From July 1, 2005- June 30, 2006)
Revenues $1,561,900
Expenses $1,482,600

Source: Tucumcari Housing Authority, 2006 THA Audit