Las Vegas Sun

January 17, 2018

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Daily Memo: Housing:

Who’s answerable for NLV agency’s failings?

The latest: Much-audited housing authority owes gas company $165,000, lawsuit says

A recent lawsuit alleges the North Las Vegas Housing Authority agency owes $165,000 to Southwest Gas for work on the unfinished housing project known as Desert Mesa.

The May 27 court filing raises the issue of accountability, yet again, for the near-defunct agency. If a breach of contract did indeed occur, who would pay Southwest Gas the money? Would it be Don England, who resigned in January after nearly a decade as CEO? Would it be the five-member board, all but one of whom are also City Council members?

The question of accountability has been left hanging after embarrassments such as having to evacuate an entire housing project, Casa Rosa, because it was unsafe, and in the wake of audit after audit of the housing authority in recent years.

Findings in those audits included that the agency had overdrawn $1.3 million from a bank account for the Section 8 voucher program, ran up an $800,000 deficit in the same program, placed tenants in public housing without verifying income, and signed contracts without allowing bids. An earlier HUD inspector general investigation found the agency also failed to use $4.4 million in Section 8 vouchers from 2005 to 2007, despite overwhelming demand for affordable housing in the Las Vegas Valley.

Each time, those responsible at the housing authority pointed their fingers elsewhere or said things weren’t as bad as they looked.

When England was still in charge, he consistently blamed problems on a lack of funding from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.

As for the board members, one of their recent meetings included a review of an audit that noted chronic problems with the Section 8 program and contracts with no competitive bidding. The responses included: Why didn’t we know about this sooner? Why is this stuff so hard to understand?

Yet, for years, those same board members have discussed and voted on step-by-step moves in each of the programs audited, and have had full access to the books during that period.

Since January, North Las Vegas City Manager Gregory Rose has been the leader of the agency. Rose said back then that he wanted to find out “what happened and who was involved, in a transparent manner, as soon as possible.”

But last month, when another audit was released, Rose said he had to wait for HUD to issue its own audit, and then compare notes, to find the smoking gun, if any. Now he says HUD won’t begin that audit until August.

“This issue needs to resolved,” he said. But, he added: “As far as who is going to be held responsible, we will have to wait.”

This flipping of calendar pages is happening amid a sea change for publicly funded affordable housing in the valley. The North Las Vegas Housing Authority, largely as a result of its incompetence, has been mostly gutted, after handing over public housing and Section 8 voucher programs to its Las Vegas counterpart. In the coming months, what’s left of the North Las Vegas agency, the Las Vegas Housing Authority and the Clark County Housing Authority will be folded into one. A key change is that elected officials will not be allowed to serve on the board of the new agency. This will help reduce conflict of interest, but not necessarily avoid the lack of oversight seen in the North Las Vegas board.

After all, that board seems to have proven that public money can be openly mismanaged for years without anyone being held accountable — including its members, and the CEO.

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