July 31, 2003 – On Thursday; two days after Ray Fonseca was fired as the V.I. Housing Authority's executive director, his absence was being felt both inside and outside of the territory.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds the authority and has found fault with its financial operations, said HUD officials are "disappointed" at the decision by the VIHA board of commissioners on Tuesday to terminate Fonseca.
Hundreds of local renters and landlords, meanwhile, learned on Thursday that banks are now refusing to accept so-called "Section 8" rent subsidy checks until VIHA removes Fonseca's signature.
As a result, Section 8 manager Ruth Blyden said, about a thousand rent checks will be delayed until at least Aug. 11 — checks that she said go not only to tenants living in public housing but also to qualified renters living in private homes and apartments.
"We need to get a new signatory in place," Blyden said. "The banks are refusing to honor any checks with the former executive director's signature."
Blyden appealed to those who are facing delays to be patient while the changes are made — an appeal not unlike that made by the Turnbull administration to HUD. Federal authorities want to place VIHA under receivership, but the governor says that won't be necessary. The Senate on Monday approved his request for authorization to dissolve the V.I. Housing Authority board and appoint an interim board to serve for up to six months.
"We in the Virgin Islands can solve our own problems, just like people elsewhere solve their own problems," the governor said Thursday. "We don't need to go into any voluntary or involuntary receivership. Although the agency has problems, we feel that we have real power in this territory and people who are committed to turning it around and restoring it to health."
But a spokeswoman for HUD said Thursday that the agency is taking a dim view of Fonseca's firing. The board fired him at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
"We are aware of the actions the board has taken," Donna White, public relations officer for HUD's division of Indian affairs and public housing, said. "The only thing we can say at this point is the Department of Housing and Urban Development is extremely disappointed to hear this news."
Several weeks ago, Michael Liu, HUD assistant secretary for Indian and public housing, met with Turnbull to express the federal agency's concerns about VIHA's financial affairs. Last week Liu warned that time is running out for the V.I. government to straighten out the problems that HUD has pointed out.
Pursuing his plan to reach a solution locally, the governor said he was ready to name an interim board as soon as the legislation to dissolve the existing one makes its way to his desk.
Action could come as soon as Friday, Turnbull said.
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