Mismanagement, lax oversight rife at Bradenton Housing Authority

October 10, 2013 

The federal investigation into the Bradenton Housing Authority should answer a host of questions after years of complaints and accusations about an agency supposedly dedicated to providing the city's poorest residents with safe, affordable housing.

Early indications, however, show the housing authority greatly benefited agency staff -- especially top officials fired just days after federal agents raided BHA facilities and confiscated numerous documents.

While the BHA board voted to fire executive director Wenston DeSue and special projects director Stephany West in an emergency meeting on Sept. 24, the revelations raise concerns about lax oversight and generous compensation and benefit packages to authority employees.

The nonprofit, independent housing authority spends state and federal taxpayer money in the management of public housing and the administration of housing vouchers.

The BHA's 2013 operating budget is $3.9 million, but the authority is so small the government does not require the filing of an annual plan -- an open invitation to abuse.

With fewer than a dozen employees, the BHA only holds 122 housing units and services 199 Section 8 housing vouchers. But half the staff drove take-home cars purchased by the authority for their full-time use.

All employees enjoy two weeks off over the Christmas-New Year's holiday, and housing authority residents complain the office closes for half days without notice, leaving calls for assistance unanswered. That abandonment of the poor, elderly and disabled is unconscionable.

Last year's authority salaries ranged from the director's $163,000 to $35,000 at the low end. And the BHA board approved 10 percent across-the-board bonuses, paid out in March. Also that month, the board elevated the maximum bonus for the executive director to $16,200, more than triple the previous $5,000.

Governments across Manatee County have struggled for years with employee compensation, with small raises finally coming this year for many. How can the BHA board justify such generosity?

If the authority is performing well financially, the reasons are more disturbing than the bloated compensation packages.

Residents complain they are charged $38 an hour for repairs yet BHA staff are not properly maintaining apartments built only a dozen years ago. Water intrusion and roof leaks are causing mold.

One disabled resident summoned Bradenton code enforcement, and officers found more than 100 violations in the apartments that were inspected.

There are other troubling circumstances behind this story, outlined in a Herald report on Oct. 6. We eagerly await details on the investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Bradenton Housing Authority appears to be primarily focused on enriching and coddling employees than serving the poor, elderly and disabled residents -- the heart of the agency's mission. This mismanagement cannot continue.

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