Housing grant funds at risk in Prince George's, Md.

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By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2009

Prince George's County could lose more than $5 million in affordable housing grants if county officials do not notify the federal government how they plan to spend the money by the end of the week.

The funds at stake come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnerships Program, known as HOME. The program, begun in 1992, gives states and localities money each year for the development of affordable housing, and the grants come with a 24-month commitment deadline.

By the end of two years, a jurisdiction has to reach legally binding agreements with developers who will use the funds, and the agreements have to be transmitted to a HUD database. The projects must begin within 12 months after that, HUD officials said.

Prince George's has an uncommitted balance of $5.17 million that is due to expire Saturday, HUD said. If information on how the county plans to spend the money is not submitted to HUD by then, federal law requires that the funds be reclaimed and distributed among all 650 participating jurisdictions.

"The law is clear that unless Prince George's County commits these funds before Nov.1, the County will forfeit its ability to draw on them," HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said in an e-mail.

Prince George's officials acknowledged Thursday in an e-mail that the uncommitted funds were a "problem." They said agreements had been reached for projects and that they were "in the process" of updating the HUD database.

County officials also said the employee in charge of the program had been reassigned within the Department of Housing and Community Development. They said the department is "currently in the process of improving its policies and procedures for the HOME program."

"There's been a change in the administration of the HOME program because of failures to process these in a timely fashion," said James Keary, spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). "That person is no longer there in that position."

Keary announced the personnel change after a Washington Post inquiry on the matter this week, but he said the move had been made earlier.

History of problems

Prince George's has yet to have funds reclaimed by HUD, officials said, but this is not the first time the county has been in this predicament. According to federal statistics and interviews, the county is among the nation's worst jurisdictions at committing and distributing HOME funds in a timely manner.

According to a HUD report on how jurisdictions were doing as of June 30, Prince George's had received $44,667,687 since the program started. At the time, 80.1 percent of the county's funds were committed, and 98 percent of jurisdictions that receive similar allotments had committed a larger share. The county had disbursed about 66 percent of its total HOME funds, placing it in the second-lowest percentile among comparable recipients nationwide.

Arlington, Montgomery and Fairfax counties have all met their deadlines this year, according to HUD. The District has until the end of November to commit $2.3 million.

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