LUMBERTON — A 32-page review of operations at the Lumberton Housing Authority reveal a number of deficiencies, including a finding that the authority entered into contracts that violated conflict-of-interest regulations that could force the return of almost $300,000 in federal money.
The authority’s lawyer, Kimberley Jones, said that depending on what is learned in the audit, further investigation could eventually result in criminal charges.
The authority’s board and staff are now working to address concerns raised in the management review conducted between March 19 and March 23, 2012, by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Public Housing in Greensboro. The review looked at how the authority is governed, its organization and staff, financial management, management operations, facilities management and capital funds.
According to a Jan. 23 letter from Michael Williams, director of HUD’s Greensboro office, to James Meacher, the former executive director of the Lumberton Housing Authority, the review found 13 serious programmatic findings and 15 observations related to potential non-compliance. Meacher retired about two weeks after receiving the letter.
“The results of the report are discouraging and indicate that there are systematic programmatic shortcomings within the administration of the Housing Authority of the city of Lumberton,” Williams said. “Each of the findings, observations, and recommendations should be carefully reviewed by the authority and all corrective actions should be implemented immediately.”
As a result of the review, HUD has ordered the local agency not to spend or obligate any federal money without first getting HUD approval.
Jones told The Robesonian that once the authority’s board learned of the review’s findings, members began to address them.
“These are good people and they want to do what is right,” she said.
On Tuesday the board entered into a contract with Pembroke Housing Authority for that agency to provide emergency management services to the Lumberton Housing Authority,. Lemark Harris, the executive director of the Pembroke Housing Authority since July 1993, will also serve as Lumberton’s interim executive director. Meacher resigned on Feb. 25 after working for the Lumberton Housing Authority for 33 years.
“Harris will be responsible for helping us address HUD’s concerns in the review,” Jones said.
The HUD Office of Inspector General has initiated an audit of the Lumberton authority’s operations that is expected to last about eight weeks.
Jones on Thursday told The Robesonian that the most important HUD concern is the need for the agency to repay $299,775 — federal money that was paid under contracts between the authority and companies that were entered into in violation of conflict-of-interest regulations.
According to the report, the Lumberton authority entered into prep-vacancy contracts with employees and former employees of the authority. Prep-vacancy contracts involve work that must be done to prepare housing units for occupancy.
The two companies named in the report as including housing authority employees, family members of employees, and former authority employees are B&A and B&L.
The owner of B&A, the report says, is the wife of Ivan Watts, the authority’s inventory purchasing specialist, who along with authority employees Roy Rogers, a maintenance mechanic, and Ricky Nance, a maintenance mechanic II, works after hours and weekends for B&L.
B&L owners are listed in the report as Anthony Brayboy, a maintenance mechanic, and Frankie Lowery, a maintenance mechanic, both former employees of the authority.
The bulk of HUD findings relate to the authority’s failure to keep policies current — such as those for travel and personnel — as well as the lack of internal controls and “checks-and-balances” for different aspects of financial management and record-keeping. The report also said that the review found that the authority fails to follow policies requiring leases to be terminated for criminal activity or for non-payment of rent, and that no policy exists providing for individuals to ever be removed from the authority’s banned list.
“Some individuals are put on the list as young teenagers and then cannot get housing later in life as adults,” the report said. “The housing authority’s current policy does not provide any path for removal from the banned list.”
Among other observations made by the study team is that the housing authority’s tenant and unit management software is difficult for staff to use and does not produce the reports needed to effectively manage units.
The Lumberton Housing Authority currently oversees 731 units of low-income public housing. It also is responsible for 596 units of Section 8 housing that is scattered throughout Robeson County.