Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Housing unit awaits result of HUD scan

Butler agency has its critics

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer


HAMILTON - After a year filled with controversy and criticism, the Butler County Metropolitan Housing Authority awaits the results of a federal review.

This review - prompted by the agency's low score on a federal performance evaluation as well as complaints about personnel issues, operating procedures and record-keeping - concerns Butler officials.

"There is so much negative coming out of that agency that we have serious concerns about it," Commissioner Courtney Combs said.

"Simply put," added Commissioner Mike Fox, "there are a lot of problems in that agency that need to be addressed."

Officials of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development say the review will be completed soon, but won't specify a date.

More questions arose this month after cases surfaced that included possible fraud involving some tenants who may have under-reported their income to obtain lower rent and a check theft by someone outside the agency. Housing Authority officials say the incidents are isolated. The Housing Authority, which has no connection to Butler County government, operates under HUD. The Housing Authority operates 1,300 federally subsidized housing units in Hamilton and Middletown.

The agency has an annual operating budget of $2.8 million and a capital fund of $5.9 million for building repairs and renovations. It's all federal money.

Besides the HUD review, the agency underwent an FBI investigation last year that found no wrongdoing.

Employees also filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission alleging sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment.

The sexual harassment complaint was dismissed, and there has been no ruling yet on the other complaint, said Joan Tumblison, the Housing Authority's attorney and assistant to the director.

Mr. Combs said he doesn't know whether the HUD review will indicate minor or major problems in the agency.

"Hopefully, it won't be as serious as it looks from the outside," Mr. Combs said. "But if all the allegations are true, there's going to have to be a process of housecleaning in that agency to get it back in compliance with federal standards."

Leonard M. "Tony" Blaine, the Housing Authority's executive director, says his agency has been working with HUD to improve operations.

"We think we're going in the right direction," he said. "The reality is not as bad as Mike Fox or whoever might think it to be."

He said his agency received a low score in the HUD performance evaluation because it submitted a portion of its plan incorrectly.

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com.

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