The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will assign 17 investigators to the Los Angeles Housing Authority in April to conduct an exhaustive review of the agency’s operations, officials said Wednesday.
Such reviews are required every eight years, but HUD officials said they decided to conduct a review three years early because the Los Angeles agency has made significant progress in overcoming its current official status as “operationally troubled.”
The agency has corrected numerous operations problems, such as its outdated and inaccurate waiting list, used to select low-income tenants, which at one time grew to as many as 30,000 names.
It is also installing a long-needed computer system so that the agency, which operates housing for 31,000 low-income residents, need not rely on outmoded paper-work filing systems.
Planned Since October
Los Angeles HUD spokesman Scott Reed said federal officials have planned the investigation since October, and are not doing it as a result of recent controversies concerning the agency’s improper contracting procedures, or its hotly disputed plan to sell the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts.
“We want to determine whether the Housing Authority can lift its operationally troubled status, and we right now can officially say they are making good progress on the problems they originally identified,” Reed said.
However, he said, the investigation will go far beyond routine operational questions. Investigators will look into financial and management practices, contracting and procurement procedures, maintenance and engineering programs and information and computer systems.
“Everything will be looked at, line by line,” by three teams of analysts and investigators specializing in general and personnel management, financial management and maintenance and engineering, Reed said.
Any serious problems that are unearthed in any area will be dealt with by HUD, Reed said. He declined to discuss what actions might be taken.
Agency Has Leverage
However, he said, “If you consider that they are (largely supported by) federal money, I would think there’s quite a bit of leverage there.”
One housing expert who asked not to be named said that hundreds of housing authorities around the country compete for millions of dollars in discretionary funds from HUD each year, and the federal agency uses its financial leverage to compel agencies to correct problems.
Housing Authority officials did not return phone calls from The Times seeking comment.
However, Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who at Wednesday’s City Council meeting proposed two motions involving the Housing Authority’s troubles, called the proposed federal investigation “good news and bad news.”
Flores said she was pleased that HUD is considering lifting the “operationally troubled” status, which would put the city in a better position to compete with similar agencies that seek HUD money.
Can Assess Direction
Moreover, she said, “We are in the throes of wondering whether management at the Housing Authority is all that it needs to be . . . and this gives us a way to assess where we want to go with this in future.”
But the councilwoman questioned the timing of the investigation, saying, “There is so much negative attention focused right now on the housing projects. And that may color the view HUD gets of what’s going on here in Los Angeles.”
Reed said the 17 investigators--including specialists from HUD’s Los Angeles office and its San Francisco regional headquarters--will be divided into three review teams. They will spend several days in April reviewing files and reports, and interviewing Housing Authority employees about the agency’s procedures and policies.
The HUD spokesman declined to comment on recent reports published in The Times revealing that Leila Gonzalez-Correa, the Housing Authority’s executive director, has improperly steered numerous contracts to acquaintances and to political supporters of Mayor Tom Bradley.
Bradley, asked to comment on the contract problems after a luncheon Tuesday in Century City, told a reporter, “Until you stop implying that my friends are getting contracts with an agency because they know me, don’t expect any interviews from me. I have nothing further to say to you.”
Says She Erred
Gonzalez-Correa has said that she erred in her handling of the contracts, several of which she failed to send through normal bidding procedures.
The executive director is also under fire from tenants and community activists for proposing the sale of Jordan Downs, which led to HUD’s withdrawal last fall of $5 million in long-anticipated modernization funds earmarked for the dilapidated project.
In related developments Wednesday, Flores asked the City Council to urge the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners to hire a permanent independent staff to watch over agency matters for the council. Flores also has asked the council to appeal to HUD to reinstate the $5 million withdrawn when the Housing Authority proposed the sale of Jordan Downs. Both matters will be considered by the council next Tuesday.
HUD officials have said that the $5 million is no longer available, having been distributed to other cities with aging housing projects that are also badly in need of funds.
Los Angeles retained $1 million that was reallocated to the Aliso Village project just east of downtown.