Nevada lawmaker urges state to take control of housing program

Updated February 8, 2018 - 6:12 pm

WASHINGTON — A Nevada congresswoman asked state officials Thursday to take control of a program that distributes federal funds to assist struggling homeowners because a nonprofit that administers the program is failing to get the money to those in need.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., also suggested that another nonprofit in Las Vegas be used as a resource to expedite distribution of federal funds for a program that ends in 2020.

“We will be doing an extreme disservice to our homeowners and taxpayers by letting this behavior continue,” Titus said.

Titus’ congressional district is within the city of Las Vegas, which saw a housing market collapse following the Great Recession.

She said the Nevada Hard Hit Fund, created in 2010 under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, has been mismanaged by the nonprofit under contract to distribute the funds and has suffered from “poor oversight by the state.”

In a letter Thursday to Gov. Brian Sandoval and C.J. Manthe, director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, Titus urged the state “to take control of this ineffective program and to prompt the Nevada Attorney General’s office to investigate any violations of state law.”

“We’ve stepped in,” Manthe said Thursday.

Manthe said the state raised questions about the program in 2015 that led to a restructuring of the nonprofit, which included termination of the CEO, a new board with state representation and help from an accounting firm to improve reporting.

She said the state urged the Nevada Attorney General to investigate wasteful spending in 2016.

Manthe said the state wants the nonprofit to receive approval for a new down-payment assistance program that could help Nevada families in buy into an improved housing market with $40 million in assistance over the next 12 months.

The urgency of the Titus letter follows a decision by the Treasury Department to deduct $6.7 million from its most recent $8.9 million allocation to the state’s Hardest Hit Fund because the state failed to meet its 2017 threshold for assistance.

The fund is administered by the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corp.

There is still roughly $84 million available in the Nevada fund to assist homeowners who are underwater on home loans, face difficulty paying home loans because of unemployment or need help reducing second mortgages.

An audit by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program in 2016 found that $8.2 million in Nevada program funds were spent on parties, employee bonuses and extravagant expenses by the nonprofit.

Following that audit, the nonprofit was restructured to give the state more oversight. A new CEO, Verise Campbell, was named to improve the nonprofit’s performance.

Campbell said those changes have improved the administration of the fund, but the special inspector general, in its 2017 audit, said the nonprofit remains “one of the worst participants” in the federal program.

The last audit found that only 167 Nevadans — the nonprofit claims 260 households — received help from the fund last year even though 72,048 people in Nevada were unemployed.

According to Titus, the special inspector general recommended the Nevada Housing Division stop outsourcing its administration of the Nevada fund to the nonprofit. Titus said the recommendation was not just based on documented waste, but also the nonprofit’s inability “to get program funds to homeowners.”

Titus also urged state officials to meet with the Financial Guidance Center in Las Vegas, a nonprofit approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to help address the problems.

The Financial Guidance Center once had a short-term contract with the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corp. “and completed all of the processing to help homeowners when the program was at its peak.”

Manthe said Treasury denied the state’s earlier request to divert money to another nonprofit in Nevada after audits found mismanagement of the state’s Hardest Hit Fund.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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