JPNDC: No delays come from housing fund audit

September 11, 2009
By

David Taber

Yoon knocks Menino for ‘sloppy bookkeeping’

A recent audit of a city-administered federal affordable housing development grant program questioned the allocation of about $15 million, including close to $3 million awarded to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC).

The audit was spurred in part by the city’s “failure to submit its consolidated annual performance evaluation reports…in a timely fashion,” the audit report said. That became an issue at a recent mayoral debate when City Councilor and mayoral hopeful Sam Yoon knocked Mayor Thomas Menino for bad bookkeeping.

But, JPNDC director Richard Thal told the Gazette, potential delays in the funding should not mean delays for two affordable housing projects it plans to start building next month. “We have extensive commitments from a variety of city, state and federal funding sources. I am confident everything is going to work out,” he said.

Those funding sources include about $11.5 million for the two projects recently awarded through a state-administered program that distributes funds from the same federal source—the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The two housing projects the community development corporation is currently working on—a mixed-use development at the former site of the Blessed Sacrament Church and a residential development at 270 Centre St., between Wise and Lamartine streets in Jackson Square—are projected to cost about $29 million to build.

Federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) funding is provided by HUD and administered to local community development corporations (CDCs) by the city Department of Neighborhood Development (DND).

The issue was fodder for a brief argument between mayoral candidates City Councilor Sam Yoon and Mayor Thomas Menino at a Sept. 3 candidates forum at Roxbury Community College.

Whether DND’s errors are from “sloppy bookkeeping,” or some other cause, “It’s unacceptable,” Yoon said at the forum.

Menino responded by saying he had spoken to the HUD secretary, who had told him, “It’s a procedural thing…Nobody’s done anything wrong.”

In his response, Menino referred to the HUD secretary as “Secretary Duncan.” Yoon later corrected the mayor, saying Shaun Donovan runs HUD. Arne Duncan is the secretary of the Department of Education.

The audit—conducted by the HUD Office of the Inspector General (OIG)—recommends that DND “deobligate” $1.52 million and reimburse an already expended $435,366 awarded to JPNDC for the two projects in 2007 and 2008. It also recommends that $1.2 million provided for the projects as pre-construction loans be reimbursed or accounted for.

The JPNDC funding is part of $15 million in HOME funding awarded by DND in recent years that the audit raised questions about. A press release from DND described the OIG concerns as “procedural misunderstandings.”

Contacted by the Gazette, HUD spokesperson Mike Serega declined to comment on whether the findings in the audit—one of many random audits the office performs each year—were out of the ordinary. “The audit speaks for itself,” he said.

DND spokesperson Lucy Warsh told the Gazette the city department has been working with the HUD regional office since July to clear up the issues. “The OIG is asking us to produce more information around our administrative procedures. We are working with the CDCs to make sure we have all the details.”

Among the audit’s findings was that 18 CDCs—referred to in the audit as community housing development organizations (CDHOs)— that have received HOME funding, including JPNDC and Urban Edge, another JP-area CDC, were not properly certified as CHDOs.

The audit did not cite specific funding allocated to Urban Edge.

Warsh described DND’s collecting that information as a “formality,” and that DND is working with the CDCs to make sure their paperwork is up to date.

Thal said the 18 CDCs identified in the audit have an estimated “500 years of combined experience and have built 8,000 to 10,000 homes for people in Boston.”

DND also came under fire in the last few weeks for its administration of a city program for the sale of surplus land. [See related article.]

John Ruch contributed to this article.