No-bid contracts to fix public housing probed

March 17, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Sun Staff Writer

Federal housing officials are examining more than $22.8 million in no-bid contracts that Baltimore's Housing Authority awarded to renovate 1,136 public housing units.

The contracts also are being scrutinized by the regional inspector general for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of a Housing Authority audit.

Bill Tamburrino, chief of the public housing division of HUD's Baltimore field office, said he has tried for months -- at times unsuccessfully -- to monitor the renovation program. He is trying to determine whether the authority violated federal procurement rules in awarding the no-bid contracts.

But Housing Authority Executive Director Daniel P. Henson III described the renovation program as "emergency repairs" that would reduce the number of vacant city-owned properties and boost rental revenue for the authority. "We didn't break the rules, we just did it differently within the rules," he said.

The authority's renovation program began last May. But the local HUD office did not learn of the program until August, Mr. Tamburrino said.

Since then, he and other local HUD officials have sought information about the program, including the number of units being repaired, addresses of the units, the total cost, environmental concerns and funding sources.

In early December, Mr. Tamburrino wrote to Mr. Henson, asking him to explain whether procurement procedures were followed in awarding the no-bid contracts.

Mr. Henson wrote back Jan. 5 and cited vandalism and the authority's 20,000-family public housing waiting list as reasons for the emergency, no-bid contracts.

Since then, Mr. Tamburrino has requested more information.

"We need to make sure that we get value for the dollars spent and that we acquire services according to federal procurement requirements," he said. "We are concerned about this. I'm the person responsible for enforcing the requirements, so if there is some degree of deviation, I have to work to resolve it."

Mr. Henson said the renovation program was created to reduce the 2,300 vacant units owned by the authority throughout the city, opening apartments for families on the waiting list. The program also would allow once-vacant units to generate rental revenue for the authority, he said.

"Given the projections of how long it would take to contract it out under the normal process -- getting detailed specs of each unit and bidding it out and, from that, assembling a group of properties and environmental clearance and bonding -- that could take one year. I felt that was unconscionable," he said.

Zack Germroth, spokesman for the Housing Authority, said the agency has hired 32 contractors and spent $22.8 million on the renovations using federal grant funding. The construction took place at developments throughout Baltimore.

Mr. Henson said he has not broken federal rules.

"I'm not going to dot every 'i' and cross every 't' and I don't break the law," he said. "I can read a rule book good. I understand what an emergency is."

He said that all 1,136 units are occupied. Mr. Germroth said the units are expected to generate $2.1 million annually in rent.

"I think what we've got here is a victory for the residents of public housing in Baltimore," Mr. Henson said. "HUD never likes you to do anything different. We are concerned about how people live in their units and our concern is that we make life better for our residents."

Last June, the Housing Authority also gave a $2.9 million no-bid contract to a security firm run by the Nation of Islam -- a deal not included among the $22.8 million in renovation contracts being examined by HUD.

City housing officials hired NOI Security Agency Inc. to guard 11 of Baltimore's 18 public housing high-rise towers.

Of the NOI Security contract, Mr. Henson said, "I had an emergency. We had people getting shot. Daily. And we're not 100 percent out of the woods."

The authority is soliciting bids for new security contracts and NOI Security Agency Inc. has submitted a bid, he said.

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