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HomeNewsArchivesOFFICIALS KNEW OF VIHA PROBLEMS, SENATOR SAYS

OFFICIALS KNEW OF VIHA PROBLEMS, SENATOR SAYS

Aug. 6, 2003 – Sen. Emmett Hansen II, who chairs the Senate Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee, said on Wednesday that administration officials lied under oath before his committee concerning knowledge of the V.I. Housing Authority's problems.
Officials knew in mid-May that VIHA had been designated by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department as "troubled," but provided false testimony to the contrary during recent Senate hearings, Hansen said in a release.
"We have gone over the testimonies and videotapes of the meetings," he said, "and what we have found out is both disappointing and damaging. When public officials lie under an oath, it is a serious matter."
Hansen did not identify the administration officials by name.
Along with the release, he circulated to the news media a copy of a message dated May 16, 2003, from the Housing Authority's then-executive director, Ray Fonseca, to his staff. Fonseca, in the message addressed to "Dear employees," said that HUD officials "visited our office and conducted a week-long management assessment. While here they informed us that we have been officially designated" as a "troubled" public housing authority.
The message included HUD's notification that VIHA for Fiscal Year 2001 received a Public Housing Assessment Score of 48 and as a result had been given "Designation Status: Troubled." According to the HUD notice, "The Real Estate Assessment Center calculated the PHAS score after an assessment of the physical condition of all PHA [public housing authority] properties had been performed, and upon receipt of all required PHA information."
Fonseca then stated that "we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. I along with all other management and supervisory staff, will be informing you of what this designation means and our action plan to remove this designation."
A week earlier, on May 10, Fonseca has testified for long hours before Hansen's committee about problems within VIHA, notably cutbacks in federal funding from HUD, which had first threatened to take over management of the authority in June of 2002.
Fonseca was named to head VIHA last October and within three months had moved drastically to reduce costs by terminating top-level managers and disbanding the Housing Authority Police as part of a recovery plan that won HUD approval. Fitzgerald Rowe, then chair of VIHA's board of commissioners, told the senators at the May 10 hearing that Fonseca's plan was necessary to "prevent immediate financial collapse" of the agency.
Hansen commented at that hearing that he was "enormously pleased" with the thorough presentations of the Housing Authority officials. (See "Fonseca lays out austerity plans for senators".)
Last week the Senate approved a request from Turnbull for authorization to dissolve the VIHA board and create an interim replacement. The next day the board held a regularly scheduled meeting where it fired Fonseca. Three days after that, the governor announced his appointees to serve on the interim board as a HUD deadline for the Housing Authority to go into voluntary federal receivership came and went. The board held its first meeting on Monday, when the newly elected chair, Gloria Waterman, told a HUD official that VIHA did not have any "formal notification that we have been declared a troubled agency."
Hansen said in his release on Wednesday: "We have heard time and time again that the local officials were never notified that the VIHA was in 'troubled' status. However, we have uncovered documentation to the contrary."
Accusing the administration of trying "to stymie the role of the Legislature in bringing to light the facts," Hansen added: "The persons on the interim board continue to say that there was no designation of 'troubled.' However, the facts say otherwise. Given that fact, is there any wonder why HUD is demanding voluntary receivership?"
He charged that with "all of the political maneuvering," administration officials "have lost sight that the Housing Authority exists to provide safe, sanitary housing for residents."
The release also said that Hansen will be holding meetings in housing communities "to educate the residents as to exactly what receivership means and how it will affect their lives."

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