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HUD flags areas for improvement at Northampton Housing Authority

  • Cara Clifford, executive director of the Northampton Housing Authority Carol Lollis



Staff Writer
Monday, September 17, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — A federal performance review of the Northampton Housing Authority has flagged 18 areas in need of correction at the public housing agency, ranging from tenant policies to accounting practices.

The review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s field office in Boston in June was released to the housing authority in August. The authority responded with a corrective action plan within the 30-day window as the federal agency required.

Rhonda Siciliano, a spokeswoman for HUD’s New England region, described the review as “routine” and the findings “fairly typical.” While HUD inspectors found 18 areas for improvement, the review also found the housing authority was performing well in other areas under federal regulations.

“This is in line with what we would expect,” Siciliano said of the performance review.

The findings include unclear zero-income policies and procedures, the acceptance of Housing Choice Voucher program participants with rent burdens higher than 40 percent of their monthly income, and the authority having an out-of-date Violence Against Women Policy.

“There’s no HUD audit that ever happens where you don’t have some kind of finding,” authority Executive Director Cara Clifford said.

Clifford will be presenting the review and her team’s response to the housing authority’s board of commissioners at its October meeting.

She said all the findings have been answered in the housing authority’s corrective action plan and HUD’s recommendations are being reviewed. She also said that most of the issues have been corrected since the review.

The review covered the area of the housing authority that deals with federal dollars, specifically the voucher programs it administers and the MacDonald House and Florence Heights properties.

“We are in compliance with the regulatory requirements,” Clifford said of the work the housing authority did in response to the review.

The review found a number of areas where the housing authority is strong, including an extremely high occupancy in its public housing, organized financial accounting, and planned changes in areas identified in the report in need of improvement. The HUD review provided 17 recommendations for the housing authority, in addition to addressing deficiencies.

“The Field Office recognizes that this report will require significant work on the part of the NHA to address the deficiencies identified,” reads the report. ” … we are confident that with good leadership from the Board and Executive Director, the agency will be able to address these weaknesses.”

On the finding that the housing authority accepted three new housing choice voucher program households with rent burdens of over 40 percent of their monthly income, Clifford said the authority has received an increase in the maximum rent burden standard from HUD.

“What we did allowed people to stay in the Northampton area,” she said, noting high rents in the city.

On the authority not having clear zero-income policies and procedures, Clifford said that the authority will now be inquiring about people’s zero-income status more regularly.

HUD also found that the authority does not have a disposition policy for equipment. Clifford said staff followed the appropriate regulations but that no written policy was in place. She said a written policy is being drafted.

Other findings included the housing authority not having an up-to-date Violence Against Women Act policy, which Clifford said has been updated.

The review also found that the housing authority does not properly document the selection of families who are nearing the top of the waiting list for its housing choice voucher program. Clifford said the documentation could not be found when the review was done. However, the documentation was later discovered after consultation with the company that provides the authority with the relevant software, she said.

In addition, the review found that the housing authority does not consistently obtain declaration of Section 214 status from tenants, which pertains to citizenship or eligible immigration status. Clifford said that such status is determined, but that the documentation was archived and could not be found at the time of the review.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com