Housing Authority presents Council with its recovery plan
By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Apr. 29, 2011
In a special meeting with the East Hartford Town Council on April 27, officials from the town's troubled Housing Authority presented its plan to bring the department back from near bankruptcy.
A January audit of the agency by an independent firm revealed the Housing Authority had a shortfall of $940,00 due to a $10 million debt because of operating expenses, and revenue of about $9 million. The authority must repay more than $1 million to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], after improperly using federal subsidies on state housing projects that the authority manages. HUD monitors state housing agencies and has designated East Hartford Housing Authority to be in a “troubled “ status.
The Housing Authority also owes $354,000 to the town for payment in lieu of taxes for tax-exempt property and $104,000 to the state for the mortgage on its King's Court complex. Uncollected rent is another problem, increasing from $175,000 in 2006 to $545,000 in 2009, HUD reported in its recent reviev of the agency.
During the special meeting, Housing Authority attorney Ralph Alexander told the council that the department would submit a recovery plan to HUD by May 2, though Alexander referred to the plan as “a work in progress.'' The plan calls for the department to sell its King's Court housing development in a negotiation with Goodwin College that is still being worked out. The department would also sell its main office on Burnside Avenue and move to another space or rent a new space.
The plan also calls for the hiring of a new executive director and finance director. Debra Bouchard, the former assistant housing director, is now serving as interim director, and financial consultant Joseph Regan is the acting finance director. At least one of the new directors are planned to be in place by Oct. 1, 2011.
The department will also enter into negotiations with its unions to make changes in wages and benefits for its staffers. The housing commissioner will undergo training in HUD requirements and public housing operations.
The budget cuts will have to be made without sacrificing services to residents, Alexander said.
Officials have been critical of the actions by housing authority commissioners. State Rep. Timothy Larson, a former East Hartford mayor, said in a recent statement that the authority's five commissioners should be replaced and the new board should include people with professional backgrounds in finance and housing,
Town Council Chair Rich Kehoe praised the steps the department has begun to make to rectify the situation. “I think the plan is right in line with where we need to be, and the council is available to help in further discussion," he said.