Jefferson Housing Authority gets $400,000 bill from HUD

Audit reported improper spending

The Jefferson Parish Housing Authority is on the hook for nearly $400,000 based on a request for payment sent by the Department of Housing and Urban Development this weekend.

Federal officials are requesting the authority repay $391,353, which is about two-thirds of the more than $600,000 flagged as improper spending during an audit by the federal agency’s Office of Inspector General last summer, according to individuals who have seen the letter.

That audit, which contributed to the resignation of the authority’s executive director and the eventual removal of the majority of its commissioners, blasted the authority for improper contracts, improper per-diem payments and other mismanagement. HUD’s request for repayment reiterates those issues and also sets a deadline for when the housing authority must make repayments.

According to the letter, the housing authority has 10 days to respond to the letter and 30 days to make the payment. If the Jefferson Housing Authority cannot immediately make the payment, it must provide a written explanation and a plan for making repayments. HUD will examine the agency’s finances and consider the possibility of liquidating assets or filing an insurance claim.

HUD is requesting repayment of:

Housing Authority Executive Director Pamela Watson did not respond to a request for comment about HUD’s letter, or the authority’s ability to repay the money.

Parish President John Young called the HUD report a confirmation on his decision to remove commissioners. However, he said he is not sure how the requirement to repay those funds will affect the authority moving forward.

“I need to sit down with the parish attorney and review this,’’ Young said.

HUD’s request for repayment comes despite the authority’s decision to spend at least $30,000 to hire an outside consultant to prepare a response to HUD’s audit that was delivered in March.

The consultant assured the authority that thanks to that response, and the new policies adopted by the board of commissioners, the authority would be cleared of any wrongdoing and exempted from any repayments. Those repayments could create a financial burden for the authority because they cannot be funded with federal dollars, which are the primary source of income for the housing authority outside of rents.

Former Commissioner Patrick Pierson said Monday he was “shocked” to hear about HUD’s request and questioned whether the agency was following its own regulations.

Pierson was one of six commissioners removed from the board by Young because of their response to issues raised in the audit and their refusal to fire former Executive Director Barry Bordelon after he resigned and was then rehired by his former subordinate.

“It shocks me. I completely disagree with their report,” Pierson said.

Pierson said he’s reviewed HUD’s request and found that based on some of the agency’s comments, it’s not clear if federal officials even read the responses from him and commissioners. Pierson said the request ignores information about how the agency justified per diems paid to commissioners and is requesting repayments of $6,000 or $7,000 from some commissioners, which is well in excess of what any commissioner was paid.

He mentioned that the request recommends that Young or the council sanction commissioners, despite the fact that neither Young nor the council have any real disciplinary power over the board.

“I don’t think they even read our responses in many cases,” Pierson said. “I think they just completely ignored it.”

He claimed that HUD’s request for repayment flies in the face of the agency’s own guidelines about documentation and other policies.

Pierson has long said that his removal, and the removal of other commissioners, was based on politics rather than any wrongdoing, and he said he feels the same way about HUD’s report.

Pierson said that Young and Council Chairman Chris Roberts may believe that the request validates their opinion, and he called that “frustrating.’’

“Clearly, this was political in nature. It’s still political in nature … It’s got nothing based in reality,” Pierson said.

He said that the commission is looking for a way to sue HUD.