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Hernando housing authority plans plow along

BROOKSVILLE — Talks aimed at creating just one agency to oversee federal programs ranging from rental assistance to public housing in Hernando County will continue even though nothing formal can happen for the foreseeable future.

That was the decision of the Hernando County Housing Authority late Friday.

The HCHA had another long discussion about the pros and cons of finding some way to consolidate their operations with the Brooksville Housing Authority.

Members of the county board continued to express concern about being held liable for actions of the BHA that could result in lawsuits and other problems. Staff from HCHA's consultant, TAG Associates Inc., assured the board that language to protect them could be crafted.

But nothing formal could be accomplished until the Hernando board fixed its own paperwork problems, which have landed the HCHA on the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's "troubled agency'' list.

The BHA received a letter this week from John Niesz, public housing director for HUD's Jacksonville office, saying that a merger between the BHA — which also carries the label "troubled'' — and the HCHA would be inappropriate.

"Since HCHA must focus its resources on addressing its own deficiencies, it would be unwise to assume the added burden of resolving Brooksville's deficiencies,'' Niesz wrote.

In light of that letter, the Brooksville authority is moving forward to find a new director or management firm. HCHA executive director Donald Singer said it wasn't a bad thing to do even if some consolidation is still on the table.

"It's always good to have a backup plan for anything you do,'' he said.

HUD did a site visit with the Hernando County authority last month and told Singer that the agency's quality reviews didn't pass muster so Singer said he was not surprised that the "troubled'' label is still in place.

The problem is not that Singer's office doesn't conduct quality control reviews, because it does. In fact, he reviews each individual file for completeness. But the HUD review team wanted additional documentation included which has not been in the past.

Singer said his staff is working to correct the deficiencies in the paperwork from the rental assistance program known as the Section 8 Management Assessment Program by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Then the authority can send HUD a new plan for its rental assistance program in late October and request another on-site inspection or a remote review. Singer predicts that once that is done, the authority should be back in HUD's favor.

"It's a lot of extra work for nothing,'' Singer said. "But like they say, it's their ball so you have to play by their rules.''

During Friday's HCHA board meeting, BHA board chairman Randy Woodruff urged the county board to continue informal talks with the city board in the interim so that some of the details of a consolidated authority could be worked out while HCHA was improving their status.

The HCHA voted unanimously to continue the talks.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando housing authority plans plow along 07/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 7:36pm]

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