Audit: Taxpayer-funded Memphis housing project has dangerous safety hazards

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Taxpayers evidently aren’t getting their money’s worth out of a U.S. Housing and Urban Development-funded housing project in Memphis, a long-troubled one, which, according to federal auditors, has many dangerous safety violations.

In a new audit, officials with the federal Office of Inspector General said the Memphis Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher program had problems with mold, exposed electrical wiring and missing locks, among countless other things.

The MHA receives $40 million in yearly government funding, according to the audit.

Auditors inspected 90 program units and found major violations with 77 of them.

Memphis Housing Authority

“The excessive violations occurred because the Authority’s quality control inspection program did not effectively detect that its inspectors lacked sufficient knowledge of HUD’s housing quality standards and missed opportunities to improve inspector performance,” the audit went on.

“Unless the Authority improves its inspection program and ensures that all of its units materially meet minimum housing quality standards, we estimate that over the next year, HUD will pay about $34 million in housing assistance for units in material noncompliance with the standards.”

HUD officials in Memphis, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., didn’t immediately return several requests for comment Friday.

HUD classified the MHS as “severely troubled” in 1999 and threatened to take over the program, the audit said.

EXPOSED: Exposed electrical wiring discovered during an inspection of Memphis public housing units.

That finding prompted MHA to outsource the 5,800-unit program to the Washington, D.C.-based Quadel Consulting Corporation, a private company, in 2000.

Quadel’s current contract with MHA expires next year.

No one at Quadel immediately returned Tennessee Watchdog’s requests for comment Friday.

OIG inspectors also reported finding missing handrails on porches, poor yard maintenance, missing window locks, improperly installed water heater lines and rotting window frames in the units, among other violations.

In their defense, MHA officials said in the audit that inspectors turned in a faulty report and even complained they didn’t get enough federal money.

“HCV unites are occupied and lived-in by families who make choices outside of MHA’s control,” said the response, adding that tenants were possibly to blame for causing damage.

In one passage, MHA officials said a door jam violation was possibly the result of domestic violence or a burglary.

“Tenants often try ‘make shift’ repairs and do not report this kind of damage for fear of repair costs or loss of deposit,” MHA officials said.

But OIG inspectors would have none of it and said they only offer the most conservative of evaluations.

“This type of deficiency occurred in multiple units where, based upon our inspections, we had no indications that the damage occurred after the Authority’s most recent inspection,” inspectors wrote.

The MHA received more than $203.6 million in funding for fiscal years 2009-2013, the audit said.

A seven-member board of commissioners governs the MHA. Board members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by city council. The board appoints an executive director.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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