City Housing Authority working on a comeback

HUD says agency now a `high performer'

June 02, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Four years after the city's housing authority was roundly criticized as inefficient and considered "troubled" by the federal government, the agency has received encouraging news about its progress from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which administers Section 8 housing vouchers to more than 13,000 families, has been removed from the federal agency's watch list and has become a "high performer," according to a letter sent to the authority last month.

"We took ownership of the problem," said Paul T. Graziano, commissioner of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. "It's extremely gratifying because I knew ... that we had the ability to do a much better job."

News of the designation -- along with the federal agency's decision to void a corrective action plan that had been in place -- was unusual for a housing authority that has been criticized in recent years for such things as overall mismanagement and lackluster housing inspections.

Under pressure from the federal government, the agency underwent major structural changes in 2001, including a reorganization that forced out several top administrators.

Officials also began using computers to track functions that had once been largely recorded only on paper.

The lack of recordkeeping made it difficult for the federal government to verify that the city agency was performing its work, including whether it had correctly awarded housing subsidies to families that applied for annual extensions.

"They've obviously been working very hard at addressing those issues," said James S. Kelly, Baltimore field office director for HUD.

The vouchers represent about $106 million in federal money, local housing officials said. The high-performing designation was for the period that ended last June.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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