Scramble to verify numbers
Launched two decades ago, the HOME program provides federal money to local housing agencies, which subsidize developers willing to build or renovate homes for the poor. Over the years, HOME funding has been used to produce thousands of successful rental units and homes for purchase by low-income buyers. Advocates say the money is crucial to cash-strapped cities struggling to provide affordable housing.
But The Post, using publicly available data, found in May that nearly 700 current projects showed signs of being delayed, either because they were launched more than five years ago, had stopped drawing federal money or faced other obstacles identified by local housing agencies.
Four days after The Post’s report, HUD said on its Web site that hundreds of the projects were completed and occupied. But behind the scenes, the agency struggled to verify its numbers.
In an e-mail in late May, HOME official Ronald Herbert urged HUD’s field offices to gather more information about the projects that HUD had reported as complete.
“It is not enough that [housing agencies] simply reported projects as completed. We are requesting that you . . . follow up on all [housing agencies] whose projects are now reported as completed,” Herbert wrote.
Across the country, local housing officials described HUD’s calls to determine whether projects were complete, including older projects that had not yet produced the promised number of units.
“HUD started requesting, my God, tons of information,” said Michael Blair of the Department of Community Development and Planning in Greensboro, N.C. “It’s like ‘Get us this by noon today’ and they were calling at 10 a.m. . . . There has been a push to try to clean things up.”
“There’s been a lot of pressure around this,” said Duane Bay, local housing director in San Mateo, Calif. “Our HUD administrator called and said, ‘Okay. Close these projects.’ ”
But HUD’s push created confusion at some local housing agencies. Bay said his staff quizzed him on when to call projects complete: Should it be when construction was done? When a low-income family actually moved in?
HUD presented its findings to Congress in early June. But The Post found that dozens of projects that HUD claimed were built and occupied had inconsistencies in completion dates and unit counts.
For example, HUD described the $700,000 project in Newark as complete and provided as proof a picture of two buildings with four units. But the developer was supposed to produce 11 units. The project, first funded in 2003, has been terminated by local housing officials. In all, the developer drew nearly $700,000 out of the $750,000 that was allocated.