Suffolk says HUD used the wrong information

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 4, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The city is challenging the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recent decision to strip Suffolk and three surrounding localities of $500,000 in federal housing funds.

City Manager R. Steven Herbert, in a 12-page letter to the agency on Tuesday, said he believes HUD’s decision to pull the Western Tidewater HOME Consortium’s 2005 grant monies was based on incomplete or incorrect information.

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Suffolk, the lead agency for the consortium that also includes Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, is responsible for distributing the money and annually monitoring how each community uses it.

HOME funds are earmarked for maintaining and improving housing stock, modernizing apartments and establishing down payment assistance programs.

In an Oct. 6 letter to Suffolk officials, HUD ranked the local consortium’s performance as among &uot;the poorest in the nation&uot; and said that Suffolk lacks &uot;sufficient administrative capability&uot; to oversee the consortium.

But Herbert has taken issue with this finding.

&uot;It is our contention that the decision to deny participation of the…consortium for 2005 funding was made without taking into consideration all available information,&uot; Herbert said in the letter. &uot;This decision is too important to these communities to be made without the opportunity for HUD to review this additional information.&uot;

Dennis Craff, the city’s spokesman, said the city wants to meet with federal officials to review HUD’s decision.

&uot;We think they had the wrong information,&uot; said Craff.

&uot;I think a meeting will be set up to make sure HUD and the city are both reading from the same page.&uot;

The city responded to several specific issues brought forth by HUD, including including:

-Administrative capabilities

The city’s HOME coordinator position was vacant from April to August 2004, which prevented the consortium information from being entered into HUD’s computer networking program in a timely manner.

Then, after a new coordinator was hired in August, it took about seven weeks before he was granted access to the agency computer network, Herbert wrote. Since then, the agency has been inputting consortium’s information on a regular basis.

The city kept HUD’s state offices appraised of its status, Herbert said.

-HUD’s charge that the consortium has an unspent grant balance of $2.7 million is incorrect, Herbert said. That total included the $550,000 2005 grant, which HUD had already pulled.

Between 1996 and 2003, Suffolk received a total of $857,284. Although the city still has $261,060 remaining, the money has been earmarked for three projects – transitional housing, homeowner rehabilitation and a first-time homebuyer program, Craff said.

Also, the city, working through STOP, is using $320,000 in community housing development monies to build four affordable housing units in Hall Place, Herbert said, adding that information was delayed getting into the HUD computer network because of both the manpower and password issues.

-HUD’s claim that the city has not spent any administrative funds from its 2001-2004 HOME grants is unfounded, Herbert said. According to documents, the city has spent $104,786 on consortium’s administrative expenses since 2001.

There is approximately $48,000 in unspent administrative funds, Herbert said.

Leeland Jones, a HUD spokesman in Richmond, doubts the consortium would be able to regain its 2005 funding.

But Suffolk and the consortium does appear to be moving in a positive direction, Jones said.

&uot;The focus should be–and appears to be–on demonstrating capacity right now so that next fall, they can make an application to be recertified for HOME funds,&uot; he said.