Fixes made to Housing issues

It is no secret that there have been rumors and accusations surrounding the management of the Lumbee Tribe’s Housing Department for some time. In fact, I was elected on a mandate from the Lumbee people to ensure HUD funds were administered efficiently, correctly and — most importantly — fairly.

Since taking office in 2016, I have been dedicated to promoting the methods that work, and making effective and positive changes in the administration of our housing funds was necessary. Some of the changes have been embraced and some have been painful, but growth always is. In order for our Tribal Government to be successful and beneficial to our Lumbee people, our governmental officials and tribal staff must be committed to the Lumbee people and ensure things are done the right way.

Most recently our area Office of Native American Programs released the 2015 Final Monitoring Report. This report initially included disallowed costs in the amount of $669,721.27, associated with the administration of the Housing Grant from 2013 to 2015. Since the release of that report, tribal staff and I have been negotiating with HUD. The final amount in disallowed costs that must be repaid to HUD is $443,290.06. To satisfy that amount, the Lumbee Tribe will take a one-time grant reduction of $443,290.06 to satisfy the disallowed costs and staff must complete mandatory trainings.

The disallowed costs are related to unreasonable travel costs, improper procurement dealing with the new construction of homes, incorrect reporting and management of a sub recipient agreement, payments for cultural services, and improper charges to the Youth Services Department.

A look back at prior monitoring reports shows that since at least 2011, there has been a pattern of improper oversight and mismanagement in the Housing Department. There is a history of procurement issues in contractual services and construction. New procedures, policies, and internal controls have been put in place.

It’s imperative that the current tribal staff, particularly those responsible for the administration of our grant, be trained and updated on proper procurement and grant management regularly. By ensuring that the focus of our professional development is on the staff, who administer the programs, and the creation of new internal reporting procedures, tribal staff are empowered to do the right thing without repercussion, no matter who is in charge.

The findings associated with the 2015 FMR have an impact far beyond paying back funds. Because the 2015 audit was so substantialm the Lumbee Tribe’s application for a Title VI loan has been left in limbo for over a year. Many of you have heard of the Dream Catcher project that the tribe has developed to build 50 rental houses throughout Robeson County to address the housing shortage following Hurricane Matthew. Until there was a resolution of the 2015 FMR and the Lumbee Tribe Housing Department showed “substantial progress” in addressing the issues that caused the findings outlined in the report, final HUD approval of the loan application was withheld. I am pleased to report that since we have reached a resolution, the Dream Catcher project can finally move forward.

In January 2018 E/WONAP conducted an on-site monitoring visit. After a lengthy and through review of our programs, ONAP staff declared the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina’s Housing department to be a “well-managed organization.” We have made tremendous strides since the 2015 visit that revealed program deficiencies and disallowed costs. Going forward compliance with all federal rules and regulations will continue to be a focus for our program. As chairman I am committed to operating a Housing program that is administered fairly, within the guidelines established by HUD, and that provides our Lumbee people with safe and sanitary housing.

The Final Monitoring Report is available for review by the public. Copies may be requested through the Freedom of Information Act or the Lumbee Tribe Disclosure Ordinance.

Harvey Godwin is chairman of the Lumbee tribal government.

Harvey Godwin is chairman of the Lumbee tribal government.