Durham News

DHA will use grant to streamline process

The City Council recently authorized a $220,260 grant to help the Durham Housing Authority provide about 300 additional Section 8 vouchers for housing.

Anthony Scott, the authority’s chief executive officer, said DHA is using the money to streamline the process. Instead of taking paper applications, the process has been moved online, where applicants can apply using smart phones, tablets and computers.

In addition, the authority has also digitized the inspection process, hired a firm that will be inspecting new properties and hired five temporary staff members to handle and manage the process.

In recent years, the Section 8 program has been operating below capacity due to federal funding cuts, according to a city memorandum. DHA can administer about 2,700 Section 8 vouchers, but currently has more than 300 unused vouchers due to not having enough money to pay for staffing, training and equipment.

“This was an infusion to get us over the hump and to get those 300 or so vouchers out on the street and leased,” said Scott, who started the job June 20. Scott replaced Dallas Parks, who retired.

Before coming to Durham, Scott had served as the deputy executive director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City since May 2011. He was responsible for oversight and direction for public housing operations, the housing voucher program, resident services, and capital planning.

Wait list reopened

On the same day of the City Council’s approval, the authority reopened its waiting list for housing vouchers. (To learn more and apply for vouchers go to http://www.durhamhousingauthority.org/.)

The application process for the waiting list will be open through 11:59 p.m. today (Sept. 14). A lottery will select 1,500 applications for the list. As of Thursday morning, DHA had received 3,445 applications. Since the initial proposal to City Council, DHA had issues about 40 additional vouchers, bringing the number of available vouchers down to 246, Scott said.

The grant and change in leadership comes as DHA’s Section 8 program has received two critical federal audits in the past year.

A May audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General found that DHA didn’t always ensure that its Section 8 program met HUD’s and its own housing quality standards.

Of the 79 units inspected, 65 failed to comply with HUD’s housing standards with 616 violations, 408 of which predated the authority’s last inspection.

“Of the 40 units that materially failed the inspection, 25 were found to have have a total of 30 life-threatening fail items requiring correction within 24 hours,” the report states. The types of deficiencies included kitchen windows being closed with screws, deadbolt locks on doors (which would prevent tenants from exiting the unit in an emergency if they couldn’t find a key), a water heater with an unsteady foundation, cracks in the foundation and a large hole in a closet ceiling through which pipes were passing, the report states.

DHA had to reimburse HUD $108,390, and correct the violations that were cited, which in some cases included terminating leases, and providing additional training for staff, according to the federal report.

A September 2015 audit of the Section 8 program found that DHA didn’t always comply with HUD’s and its own requirements, such as maintaining eligibility documentation, correctly calculating housing assistance payments, performing inspections in a timely manor and limiting annual rent increases.

In a response to the audit, Parks, wrote that the agency had decreased staff by 38 percent over the years due to cuts in federal funding, which hindered DHA’s ability to comply with federal requirements. DHA was also in the middle of transitioning to an updated version of its software and discovered a number of data discrepancies. The audit suggested that DHA reimburse HUD $34,414 for unsupported payments of housing assistance due to missing eligibility and $15,151 for deficiencies in housing payments and fees.

In May, Rhega Taylor, the head of the voucher program, and Jeffrey Causey, the authority’s chief financial officer, left the agency. Scott said the positions have been filled with interim staff and the agency is working to fill the positions permanently.

In general, Scott said, the federal sequestration and other cuts to HUD programs have affected housing authorities across the country.

“Some of what you see in our audit reports are a direct reflection of that,” Scott said. “But regardless, it is what it is, and we have to deal with and address those things.”

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

About the Durham Housing Authority

The Durham Housing Authority has 1,733 public housing units in 13 developments across the city. Of those units, 1,457 are occupiable. There are about 3,860 residents in public housing.

DHA or its affiliate Development Ventures, Inc., oversees 274 affordable housing units. DHA’s Section 8 program has distributed 2,533 housing vouchers that give 5,982 people access to housing. DHA is establishing a waiting list for an additional 243 Section 8 vouchers.