A D.C. Council candidate who has portrayed herself as a straight-and-narrow outsider solicited and received special consideration from city officials for an interest-free home loan to buy her Northwest Washington condominium, according to a complaint filed by her opponent, Ward 1 incumbent Jim Graham.
Brianne Nadeau (D), a public relations consultant, denied that she did anything wrong. She said Graham’s complaint reflects only that she advocated for what she originally had been promised under a city-backed program for first-time home buyers.
Nadeau has often cited a reprimand of Graham (D) last year for ethics violations, making it the centerpiece of her bid against him. His complaint to the city’s inspector general, alleging that Nadeau has her own ethics challenges, could mute that criticism.
In the complaint, dated Friday, Graham alleged “serious irregularities, and . . . perhaps fraud,” in Nadeau’s application for a city-backed loan.
Graham revealed a series of e-mail exchanges from 2009 in which Nadeau, then a member of an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, sought help from Graham and then-D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray to help her obtain a larger amount in the home-buyer program. She had been approved for such a loan two years earlier, but her salary had grown since, and program administrators had shrunk the amount of her income-based loan guarantee accordingly.
According to e-mails included in Graham’s complaint, Nadeau asked him and Gray “if there is anything you can do here to make this right.”
Nadeau also threatened legal action against the Home Purchase Assistance Program, saying she had consulted a lawyer but did not want to go that route: “I am hoping we can resolve this issue with a little common sense,” she wrote.
The larger loan guarantee was nothing unscrupulous, Nadeau said in an interview. She had been approved for the full loan amount but had not been able to complete the process because her condo in the U Street neighborhood was under construction.
On Nadeau’s behalf, Graham wrote to the head of the District’s housing agency and others, saying, “Please do all you can.” A budget official for Gray also helped, Nadeau recently said. Over the course of two days in February 2009, Nadeau’s loan amount was reevaluated and, with the help of city housing officials, increased by nearly $20,000.
Nadeau provided loan documents and other financial information she had filed with the program to The Washington Post to counter Graham’s accusations that the loan was anything but aboveboard. But taken with the e-mails Graham saved, the documents show a messy loan process.
Nadeau’s original loan guarantee had expired at the end of 2007 when she hadn’t yet bought a home. As bonuses pushed up her salary as a congressional staff member in 2008, the Greater Washington Urban League, which administers the program, shrank her guarantee to less than half the original amount, records show.
Nadeau’s loan guarantee under the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) dropped from $33,050 in 2007 to $14,450 in 2008, as she reported a $5,000 bump in her $50,000 salary. According to published award tables, her higher salary corresponded with the lowered award amount, but Nadeau said she was never told that her income change had affected her award amount, and she maintains that it did not.
Nadeau’s ability to reclaim the more generous terms of her expired loan in 2009 came as funding for the overall home-buyer program was being decreased, lowering the awards for the city’s poorest residents by nearly half.
In her e-mail to Graham and Gray, as well as in a lengthy appeal to the league for reconsideration in 2009, Nadeau said that her income had not changed since 2007.
“Since that time my income has not changed at all,” she wrote to league officials. Congressional records and financial information she had previously provided to the league show otherwise. Asked about the discrepancy, Nadeau said that her base salary had not changed but that she had received bonuses that increased her pay.
Nadeau also signed her pleas for assistance as “Commissioner, ANC 1B05” and cited her role as a volunteer community leader as a reason she had to apply for the low-income loan.
“I have sacrificed a great deal by serving on the ANC, only one example being my ability to purchase a home anywhere I wish. This condo is the only home in my entire district that I can afford to purchase, and I cannot do that without the funding from HPAP at the prior guidelines.
“I understand that nobody is entitled to HPAP funds, and I do not take for granted that I should receive them. But I would never have ventured down this long and arduous path had I not believed I would eventually be approved.”
Nadeau said she does not regret mentioning her status as an ANC commissioner.
“I was about to lose my home, and I did what anyone else would have done, which is advocate for myself with the council chairman and Urban League,” she said.
She added, “I think this is a desperate move by Jim Graham, using taxpayer dollars to dig up a five-year-old constituent services request because he is in the political fight of his life.”
Last year, the District’s ethics board found a “substantial body of evidence” that Graham had violated the city’s code of employee conduct while intervening in a 2008 contract dispute on behalf of a campaign contributor.
Graham said it was appropriate to bring the same level of scrutiny to Nadeau as he has faced.
“If I had signed my name on a loan application as ‘Jim Graham, council member,’ people would be jumping up and down,” he said. “I’ve heard so much from her about ethics, and here is an example of unethical behavior,” he added. “She misrepresented her situation to me . . . and presented herself as an ANC, using title for private advantage.”
He said he helped her at the time because Nadeau misrepresented her income to him. “Of course my response would have been different,” he wrote in the letter of complaint, had he known her true income.
Nadeau’s home loan has repeatedly been a public issue in debates between the two Ward 1 contenders. She has cast HPAP as the kind of program the city should expand. She has also pledged to make the program more transparent and easier for buyers to navigate.
After her requests for help, an Urban League official wrote to Nadeau on Feb. 9, 2009: “We have good news to share. We will be able to honor the old . . . assistance amount.”
Nadeau bought her $307,000 condo two months later, in the spring of 2009. Under the terms of her HPAP loan, she received $38,490 to cover her down payment and closing costs. The no-interest loan required no payments for five years, and then monthly payments of $80.
Robyn Wikes, a spokeswoman for the league, said no one involved with the approval process for Nadeau’s application remains in the office. Nadeau’s file has been placed in storage, and it could take several days to retrieve it, she said.