BROOKSVILLE — Soon enough, the Brooksville Housing Authority may finally shed its almost interminable status as a "troubled" agency.
Maybe even as soon as the end of the year.
"We're plugging away at it," said executive director Tommy Brooks. "But we're on track with that."
Indeed. Brooksville's housing agency has made substantive progress under the leadership of Brooks, according to a spokesman with the Tampa Field Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That should come as little surprise, given that Brooks helped pull the Ocala Housing Authority out of troubled status during his stint as agency director from 1991 to 2000. Before he came to Brooksville, he was working as a minister at New St. John's Baptist Church in Ocala.
"Tommy Brooks had made the difference," Brooksville housing board member Cliff Manuel said. "He's been a breath of fresh air and provided a lot of leadership."
Brooks replaced Ronnie McLean, who was fired May 20 after a Department of Housing and Urban Development report was critical of his handling of inspection reports, record keeping, staffing and budgetary matters.
But the problems didn't start with McLean. Previous managers went to prison for defrauding the federal government.
The ongoing problems have prompted a strong local push to merge the city's and the county's housing authorities. Before that can happen, however, both agencies will have to escape HUD's "troubled" status.
"Until such time as both are no longer 'troubled,' HUD will not entertain a merger of the two agencies," Bill Kalbas, a spokesperson for HUD's Tampa Field Office, said in an e-mail response to questions.
Kalbas said HUD will soon issue a management review report outlining where the Brooksville authority is thus far. No specific date has been given.
Meanwhile, the Hernando agency is set to have an on-site monitoring visit from HUD officials sometime before the end of the fiscal year — Sept. 30 — to determine its progress. The county Housing Authority earned a "troubled" label in 2005 because of problems with its Section 8 Management Assessment Program.
With a merger far from certain, Brooks and the Brooksville housing board — almost completely overhauled under former Mayor David Pugh in 2007 — have been working diligently to sort through the agency's problems. Among them, according to HUD, are rent collection and identifying management and structural needs.
"The Brooksville Housing Authority continues to receive needed assistance from HUD to address the problems," Kalbas said in an e-mail.
"We're looking to get out of troubled status as soon as possible," said Housing Authority board Chairman Randy Woodruff. "When things are running smoothly, you're almost at a loss for words. Basically, it's being run the way a housing authority is supposed to be run now."
Woodruff and others say that Brooks has placed an emphasis on getting training for Housing Authority staffers and board members, something that had been lacking under McLean. In fact, one of the enduring complaints about McLean was his relative lack of experience in dealing with housing agencies.
"I don't have a lot to say about McLean," Manuel said, "but Tommy's experience with troubled housing authorities has really been of great help to us. It's been a definite plus."
McLean, who most recently lived in Spring Hill, could not be reached for comment.
Brooks credited the changes on a strong working relationship with the board members and support from city government. But, he added, lots of hard work still remains to undo years of mismanagement.
"I can't tell you that it's been all fun," Brooks said. "But it's taken a team effort to get us this far."
Board member and Housing Authority resident Yvette Taylor said the improvement has been evident in a number of ways since Brooks came to Brooksville. She said the board meetings are more orderly, rent is regularly collected on time and repairs to the buildings are made promptly.
"I believe we're moving forward, even faster than expected, especially considering what he came into," said Taylor, who lives at the Hillside Estates complex. "Keeping up with what HUD wants is demanding. But he's been on top of everything they've asked him to do."
Joel Anderson can be reached at joel firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.