HUD alleges more housing violations City officials say charges are untrue or misleading

'Persistent problems'

Agency's procedures have been questioned 4 times in 2 years

March 23, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Marcia Myers contributed to this article.

In yet another stinging criticism of the city housing authority, federal housing officials have charged that the agency violated several federal regulations by, among other things, awarding work to a suspended contractor and ignoring formal bidding procedures.

Baltimore City Housing Authority officials attempted to refute the allegations, which were made public yesterday by U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. At a hastily called news conference, the city officials said the charges are either untrue or misrepresent the facts.

The charges come after a review of Baltimore's housing laws, regulations and policies from July 1994 to December 1995 by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ms. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said the housing situation was ripe for fraud and abuse.

"There are still serious, deep-rooted and persistent problems at the housing authority," she said. "Formal bidding procedures are not used. No price analysis is done before awarding contracts. And purchases are still being treated as emergencies for no valid reason."

This marks the fourth time in two years that the agency's contracting methods have been questioned. But the federal report will not result in another sanction against the housing authority.

"In and of itself, it doesn't trigger anything," said HUD spokesman Alex Sachs. "We have an ongoing oversight of the practices of the housing authority."

Housing authority spokesman Zack Germroth said that "clearly there are areas that we will certainly dispute" in the report.

The report charges that:

Elias Contracting Corp. was given $7,000 for work and a work or- der extension, even though the company had been suspended from participation in the repair program.

The owner, Larry Jennings Sr., was convicted in November of bribing the manager of the no-bid program to win more than $1.18 million in no-bid work from the housing authority.

City housing officials did not obtain HUD approval when they increased the value of contracts by more than $25,000, including one for a $216,131 residential repair that was not supposed to exceed $75,000.

Housing officials issued work contracts without setting dollar limits.

The report also said that the agency issued purchase orders noncompetitively; that small purchases were not documented; that a service contract was not bid for 10 years, although regulations require rebidding every two years; that funds were not used in an economical and efficient manner; and that a housing vehicle was being used by a city employee in another department.

Eric C. Brown, deputy executive director of the housing authority, said city housing officials needed more time to review the charges and would answer the allegations in coming weeks. But he did defend the city against some of the charges.

Mr. Brown said Elias Contracting Corp. did not appear on the list of ineligible contractors that is distributed by the U.S. General Services Administration each month to city housing departments.

"The responsibility for this rests with the General Services Administration," Mr. Brown said.

However, the owner of Elias Contracting was named on a companion list that could have prompted the city not to use the company.

Jennings was perhaps the most publicized of the 13 people who have been charged in the federal housing investigation, in part because his son, Larry Jennings Jr., served on the housing authority board while his father waS receiving no-bid repair contracts.

Jennings' company was given two work orders, on Oct. 18 and Nov. 8 last year.

Federal officials have prohibited the housing authority from awarding any contract worth more than $25,000 without public bidding until HUD determines that there are adequate safeguards. The agency had been awarding contracts of up to $100,000 without bids.

Twice previously, HUD officials criticized the agency for awarding contracts without seeking competitive bids.

Four months ago, the city had to toss out its controversial contract with Nation of Islam Security Agency to patrol its public high-rise housing projects. And the city still is appealing orders that it must repay hundreds of thousands of dollars misspent on that contract and the troubled no-bid housing-repair program.

Pub Date: 3/23/96

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