The D.C. auditor, blasting the city's housing department for what he called a pattern of mismanagement, said yesterday he plans to open new inquiries into the city's troubled redevelopment projects on Bates Street NW and at the Kenesaw apartments at 16th and Irving streets NW.
"What I am observing is that they the housing department simply bestow the money on whoever is chosen to develop the project and simply accept the product regardless of quality, regardless of timing," D.C. Auditor Otis H. Troupe said in an interview yesterday.
Troupe's office recently completed a draft audit of a facade renovation project on the riot-torn H Street NE corridor that is highly critical of both the community group that ran the project and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
The draft, which will be made final after the parties involved have an opportunity to respond to it, said that $49,316 of $160,612 in federal funds is unaccounted for by the community group and that the housing department failed to monitor the project properly.
"There is a pattern at DHCD--they never monitor," Troupe said.
Troupe said that there is still about $3 million in city funds that has not been properly accounted for at the troubled Bates Street project, once touted as a showpiece of Mayor Marion Barry's housing program. The probe will deal mainly with subcontractors who have not accounted for work that department records show they were paid for, Troupe said.
This will be the second time in a year that Troupe has audited Bates Street, a mixed-income project in the Shaw area that originally was to include 133 restored town houses. Last August Troupe issued a sharply worded review of the project, saying the housing department had mismanaged it and not gotten its money's worth and that the developers should be fired.
But the city continued to put more money into the project and later revealed that the developers had returned 47 of the Bates Street homes to the city because they did not have the funds to renovate them.
District officials both then and now acknowledged that there were problems at the Bates Street project, but Barry yesterday said there are no missing or unaccounted-for funds.
"The money is not lost. We know where every penny of the money went," Barry said at his monthly news conference. "Mistakes were made on Bates Street in terms of the developers. Probably they could have done a better job.
"But again, Bates Street was lying fallow for 14 to 15 years, boarded up. Now families are living there," he added.
The renovations on the 84-unit Kenesaw apartments are just being completed now, according to a resident. That project was begun years ago on behalf of the tenants there, but work came to a halt halfway through the project in 1980, with $1 million spent, because of an internal spat between city housing officials.
Troupe said his office has received "preliminary information" on problems at the Kenesaw apartments. He declined to give specifics but said the information "shows the same pattern" of the housing department's failure to keep track of funds it disburses.
All of the projects that have been the targets of Troupe's review were initiated and administered before the current housing director, James E. Clay, came to that job early this year.
Barry yesterday credited Clay with cleaning up the department's books on federal Community Development Block Grants, saying that "because of the corrections . . . we're receiving for the first time in a long time our full allocation of CDBG money." He said the department is responding to the auditor's findings on the H Street project.
But the council member who requested that audit, Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), was highly critical of Clay in an interview last week, noting that he had been deputy director of the department when the projects were being developed and was therefore, she believed, largely responsible for the problems with them.
"I was opposed to bringing Mr. Clay back as director," Winter said. "He was there when the H Street grants were made in the first place . . . . I don't know why the city hired him. When the mayor wanted to bring him back, I said to the mayor, 'With all these problems here, many created when Mr. Clay was [deputy] . . . why reinvent the wheel.' "
Clay could not be reached for comment.