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Report calls Tampa Housing Authority troubled

From gaping holes in apartment ceilings to the way housing officials hand out million-dollar contracts, the Tampa Housing Authority is rife with serious management problems, according to a federal report released Monday.

The report criticized many departments and suggested widespread mismanagement cost the authority at least $1.9-million.

But the audit repeatedly singled out former Director Audley Evans and said his continuing involvement with the authority is "detrimental" to its best interests. Evans, the authority's director from 1988 to 1996, exploited his position to set up a non-profit housing corporation that he continues to mismanage with federal money, the report stated.

"We recommend that THA cease business relationships with (Evans)," the report said.

Evans could not be reached for comment. He shooed away television reporters who tried to interview him at his Tampa home Monday night.

Tampa housing officials released the report Monday afternoon. The audit exhaustively covered the management of the 5,000-unit housing authority from 1994 to 1997. The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development started its review last year to identify contractors, employees and officials involved in possible corruption, conflicts of interest and other illegal activities.

It is unclear whether the findings would support any criminal charges. In the end, the wide-ranging review seemed to focus heavily on management, particularly Evans, who during his eight year-tenure was both praised for creativity and criticized for nepotism.

Before he stepped down, Evans built himself a golden parachute with public money, the report implied. He shifted the ownership of a few apartment buildings and warehouses to the Tampa Housing Development Corp., a quasi-governmental organization; dismantled the housing authority's oversight of the corporation; and then became the head of the corporation, which continues to get millions of dollars in contracts from the authority.

But the report enumerated scores of questionable business dealings that went beyond the relationship to Evan's current organization.

A director of a resident business program awarded his cousin an $11,700 car wash contract, though the cousin didn't have the proper job training. Managers gave business earmarked for residents to non-residents. And officials were guilty of bid-splitting, in which a large project is broken up into several small jobs, each just under the amount that would require a bid. For example, instead of issuing a public bid for a $450,000 renovation contract, housing managers split the bid into sub-contracts just shy of the minimum level of $100,000 and gave all the sub-contracts to the same company.

To correct this, the report recommends that the housing authority pay back $1.9-million for the improper bidding.

Inspectors also found that several of the 20,000 public housing tenants, especially those who worked for the authority, were underpaying rent, and suggested more oversight of and training for rent managers.

The study also found deplorable conditions in all the units inspected, including dangerous wiring, holes in the ceiling and peeling paint.

The final finding in the report accused the housing authority of overrating its own performance and not addressing its problems in annual performance reports to HUD.

Housing officials were concerned by the audit findings but said they were not rushing to judgment.

"We're going to study and digest this before we make any policy changes," said Ed Johnson, the chairman of the authority's board who was elected in March. "I think a few places to start would be better controls, better training and more responsiveness."

The incoming director, Jerome Ryans, agreed. Ryans is filling the spot vacated by Arthur Milligan, who served for a year after Evans.

"We want to react but not overreact," said Ryans, the former director of the Memphis Housing Authority who takes over in Tampa on May 1.

"Every housing authority has problems and this report is a great starting point to assess all that we need to do."

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