The executive director of Florida Housing Finance Corp. has resigned in the wake of an audit that rapped the agency for hosting expensive meals, including a $52,000 dinner, and awarding nearly $443,000 in employee bonuses while thousands of Floridian were waiting for help to save their homes.
Stephen Auger, who has headed the state-run agency since 2005, said he was stepping down from his job in a letter to the agency’s board chairman the day after the Tampa Bay Times reported on the audit.
“It has been an honor and a blessing to have been part of an organization of such fine people who work so diligently to provide a range of affordable housing opportunities that help make Florida’s communities great places to live, work and do business,” Auger wrote.
But the agency under Auger’s tenure has repeatedly come under fire for its lackluster performance in helping struggling homeowners during the foreclosure crisis. In a blistering report last year prompted by a Tampa Bay Times investigation, a top federal official said Florida had one of the highest rejection rates and lowest acceptance rates of applicants seeking mortgage relief from the federal Hardest Hit Fund.
As of September, fewer than 30,000 homeowners had been accepted while more than 100,000 had been turned down for Hardest Hit help.
Created in 1998, Florida Housing Finance Corp. oversees government programs designed to increase the state’s stock of affordable housing. It also administers Florida’s $1.1 billion share of the $7 billion Hardest Hit Fund.
The state audit that apparently prompted Auger’s resignation rapped Florida Housing for hosting a lavish dinner of filet mignon and broiled lobster tails last year to honor lenders who deal with low-income borrowers. Costing $52,548, it included $2,025 for hors’ d’oeuvres; $1,800 for an “imported and domestic cheese display”; and $540 for 10 fruit baskets.
Other expenses that “did not appear to be clearly necessary” for the performance of the agency’s duties included two receptions for staff and board members. One reception, costing more than $3,000, featured a $574 beer and wine bar.
The audit also criticized Florida Housing for lacking a “consistent methodology” for determining which employees should receive bonuses and how much they should get. In 2014 and 2015, the agency awarded bonuses totaling nearly $443,000 to employees, including $12,500 to its inspector general – whose job is to act as a watchdog over the agency and “enhance public trust in Florida’s Public Housing.”
In the audit released this month, Florida’s Auditor General cited several areas in which the housing agency did not follow up on recommendations made in previous audits. Among them: the need for better safeguards against unauthorized access to confidential information including Social Security numbers.