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CES In The News

Los Angeles Times
Monday February 18, 2008
Housing Director Criticized by HUD
Auditors say L.A. County Mismanages Low-Income Program
Wants Millions Returned
By Ted Rohrich and Jessica Garrison
Times Staff Writer

Federal auditors have called for the ouster of the Los Angeles County Housing Authority's director, saying his agency has not properly administered the $200 million federal housing voucher program for the county's poor and has sought to conceal its shortcomings.

The unusual recommendations come in a report this month that criticizes the authority for failing to check annually, as required, on tenants' eligibility for subsidies under the federal Section 8 program. Some recipients were receiving more money than they were entitled to, the auditors found.

The director of 17 years, Carlos Jackson, acknowledged past failings in his agency's administration of Section 8, which now serves 20,700 people and families. But he said he had moved to correct the problems and denied intentionally misleading the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the funds.

Jackson said he was "taken aback by the tone and the magnitude of the recommendation" at a time when he felt he was making headway. "I dispute their findings," he said.

Jackson heads the county Community Development Commission, which includes the housing authority and redevelopment projects. He reports directly to the Board of Supervisors, which ultimately must decide his future.

Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke said Friday that Jackson would get a chance to defend himself.

Larry Gross, who directs the Coalition for Economic Survival
, a tenants' group, said he was distressed by the audit.

"The Section 8 program is incredibly important to low-income tenants and may be the only way they can get a roof over their heads," he said. "Now the question is, how is the Board of Supervisors going to respond to this?"

Section 8 tenants pay about a third of their incomes for rent to private landlords; the federal government, through local housing authorities, pays the rest. The wait to join the program takes years.

The problems are not new. The authority's troubles were first noted in 2003, when HUD auditors found that it had not reviewed many tenants' eligibility for three years. In some cases that were reviewed, the auditors found, the authority did not verify tenants' reported incomes. HUD auditors said they learned through two subsequent reviews that the agency repeatedly -- and falsely -- assured HUD it had corrected these problems.

The latest audit, which covered 2005 and 2006, found that the agency did not perform annual eligibility checks for one in four Section 8 tenants, who then numbered 17,700.

Of the federal money provided to the county annually, $36 million goes toward managing the program. Auditors recommended requiring the county to refund 10% of that. The refund would apply to the fiscal year that was audited, 2005-2006, and a similar portion would be withheld from the agency in future years, beginning immediately.

Auditors also recommended that HUD administrators direct the Board of Supervisors to replace the executive director "with someone who has sufficient Section 8 experience and who will devote the time necessary" to run the program.

HUD administrators have not yet asked the supervisors to fire Jackson, however. HUD spokesman Larry Bush said Friday that the agency would "follow through with local authorities" to make sure the recommendations are carried out.

Auditors studied in detail the files of 25 subsidized tenants and found that the authority miscalculated in every case, overpaying in most instances.

The auditors noted that the authority recently had tried to improve its performance.

For example, after the authority was scolded in previous reviews for failing to conduct annual reexaminations for more than 4,000 tenants, it reexamined each case. But then, when an outside firm checked 500 of the new reviews, almost 200 contained errors, many of which led to incorrect payments, auditors said.

Jackson ordered more staff training and brought in new managers to streamline operations.

But auditors said they were not sure the problems had been solved.

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