Trouble list includes North Las Vegas housing agency


It comes as no surprise that the North Las Vegas Housing Authority has landed on a list of the nation's most troubled public housing agencies.

Federal officials long have slammed the nearly defunct agency for its poor management. For years, the agency has struggled with debt stemming from a bad investment and the misuse of federal funds that should have gone to help some of the city's neediest families.

"What took them so long?" Carl Rowe, former interim director of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority and longtime critic of the smaller agency, said of its inclusion last week on a list of 146 housing agencies nationwide that the government considered most troubled. "They well deserve to be criticized."

The Associated Press, which reviewed inspection and audit records of the housing authorities, wrote that the documents showed a system in which agencies must become nearly insolvent before the federal government steps in. And when Washington does intervene, the mismanagement can continue for years while the government continues subsidizing the housing agency.

Yet Washington's hands are tied because the threat of withholding funding to punish irresponsible housing authorities would penalize poor tenants .

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tagged the North Las Vegas Housing Authority "troubled" in 2005.

In 2008, Rowe, who was then director of the Las Vegas Housing Authority, blew the whistle on unsafe conditions at the North Las Vegas agency's Casa Rosa public housing complex. The move led to the relocation of 76 families, some of whom had been living for years with failing stairways, mold, sewage leaks, wiring problems and non-working smoke detectors.

"This was years and years of neglect," Rowe said.

The agency's CEO resigned and was not replaced. Instead, North Las Vegas took over management of the agency.

Rowe and others criticized the makeup of the board that oversaw the agency. It long consisted of most of the members of the North Las Vegas City Council, which critics called a conflict of interest.

The Las Vegas Housing Authority since has merged with the Clark County Housing Authority to form the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority, one of the country's largest public housing agencies. The North Las Vegas Housing Authority is expected to join the regional agency but must first deal with its remaining debt and properties.

HUD said the agency still has an estimated $1.9 million in debt from the failed Desert Mesa project, which was planned to be a residential development for low-income families but was stymied by construction delays, soil problems and lawsuits from contractors. Construction was halted in 2004.

How that debt will be resolved remained a mystery, HUD said in October. North Las Vegas is dealing with a $35 million budget shortfall.

The North Las Vegas agency's public housing programs now are managed by the regional housing authority, leaving the smaller agency with 120 units of non-federally aided housing, said Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, assistant to the city manager of North Las Vegas.

The North Las Vegas agency has become something of a nonentity: "The housing authority is winding down," Bailey-Hedgepeth said.

Rowe said HUD has been lobbying for the regionalization of small housing authorities, such as the North Las Vegas agency, across the country.

"There are thousands of such entities," he said. "HUD doesn't have the resources to provide the necessary oversight."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

 

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