Aug. 11, 2003 – Facing a Monday deadline to prove that federal authorities were wrong in charging the V.I. Housing Authority with financial mismanagement, the agency has gotten a reprieve until this Friday to make its case.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department granted the VIHA interim board's request for an extension, moving the deadline back to Friday, Donna White, HUD public information officer, confirmed on Monday.
Gloria H.C. Waterman, who was elected chair of the newly appointed board when it met for the first time a week ago, said the extension came in response to a letter VIHA sent late last week to HUD in Washington.
Waterman, who also holds the position of assistant to the governor on St. Croix, said the board wants to see for itself what condition the Housing Authority is in. The seven-member interim board includes only one member who also served on the permanent board that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull dissolved at the start of this month after receiving Senate authorization to do so.
"What we are going to do is research, to determine the merits or non-merits of what HUD had to say regarding the agency," Waterman said late last week before word of the extension came through.
In a letter sent recently to the governor, Michael Liu, HUD assistant secretary for Indian and public housing, charged agency mismanagement in several areas, including failure to account for the receipt of federal funds, failure to keep proper financial records and commingling of funds earmarked for special uses.
HUD officials have asked VIHA to enter into voluntary federal receivership — and set a deadline of 5 p.m. last Friday for its agreeing to do so. The deadline came and went with no response.
Another alternative would be involuntary receivership. Turnbull has said repeatedly that he is adamantly opposed to both options and that he believes the interim board has the capability to resolve the problems besetting the agency.
HUD officials in Washington have not indicated what action they might take if the response by the housing board later this week is deemed unsatisfactory.
White said she couldn't speculate on what would happen if HUD is not satisfied with the VIHA response. She said that decision would come after HUD hears the response.
Last Tuesday, at its final meeting before being dissolved, the permanent board fired Ray Fonseca, the agency's executive director for the last 10 months. Fonseca, citing HUD funding cutbacks, had instituted drastic expense-reduction measures including laying off top-echelon officials and disbanding the Housing Authority Police.
At its first meeting, the interim board named Elmo D. Roebuck to take over as executive director. A day later, Roebuck said he could not comment on his plans for the agency, as he had not yet been offered a contract.
Two teams of advisers from HUD's Troubled Agency Recovery Center came to the territory last week to begin an assessment of the Housing Authority. A team of financial analysts spent most of the week reviewing the authority's books while a recovery team including engineers spoke to key personnel at VIHA.
An administrator in the VIHA office on St. Thomas said on Monday that the financial team has left the territory.
The recovery team members have remained in the islands, and Waterman said a special meeting of the interim board has been called to meet with them on Thursday. At that meeting, "We will know what they discovered and what is their plan at their exit interview," she said
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