Even with the reduction in staff and budget cuts already made, the Chattanooga Housing Authority needs to cut an additional $100,000 a month to break even, federal officials say.
And if the authority is not able to sell properties to pay back $2.3 million in financial obligations and misappropriated funds, the agency must cut back even more, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Clearly over the past five years, CHA has employed more staff and paid more benefits than it could afford,” according to a department review of the housing authority released this week.
If the housing authority isn’t able to sell its properties or raise money by other means to pay back its debt, it must increase its cuts from $101,486 per month to $290,486 per month, according to HUD’s review.
HUD’s recommendations to make up the lost money include reducing the housing authority’s work force by 15 full-time employees, according to the report. So far this year, housing officials have reduced the staff from 206 employees to 142, records show.
However, housing officials say they do not foresee any more layoffs and insist they still plan to break even by the end of the year.
“We don’t foresee anything happening right away,” said Eddie Holmes, chairman of the housing authority’s board of directors. “We’re looking at normal attrition.”
About 13 people a year resign from the housing authority, he said. Other housing employees may be reassigned to other job duties, he said.
Bill Lord, CHA’s chief information officer, declined to say how the housing authority plans to address the department’s report. Those answers will be in a response to HUD that the housing authority plans to file by Aug. 11, he said.
“We’re in the process of reviewing (decisions),” he said. “We want to respond accurately, one time in writing.”
The housing authority has reported a total $4.5 million budget shortfall.
CHA’s debt from misappropriating funds includes using $1.2 million in loan money that should have been restricted for covering shortfalls on the Mayfair on Market project, according to the HUD report. Mayfair on Market is designed to revamp the 700 block on Market Street with new housing and commercial space.
The HUD report comes a month after CHA officials predicted that they had made enough budget cuts and layoffs in March and May to break even by the end of the year and begin replacing the housing authority’s reserve fund by 2009.
However, federal officials say the housing authority still has too many employees on its administrative staff.
“CHA is still overstaffed by 15 employees,” according to the report. “Moreover, the authority’s administrative offices are overstaffed by an estimated 33 employees while its maintenance department is understaffed by approximately 18 employees.”
The distribution of staff is significant because housing industry officials have said they plan to focus on site-based management instead of managing those sites from the CHA central office.
Several residents in developments managed by the housing authority said they don’t think further reductions in the authority’s administrative staff would impact them, but they are affected by the lack of maintenance personnel.
“We had a maintenance man on site every day (before the layoffs earlier this year),” said Bobby Paris, president of Dogwood Manor. “He was taking care of everything, air conditioning and plumbing. Now we have to wait two or three days to get help.”
A building with no air conditioning could be dangerous for elderly residents, he said.
CHA’s citywide Resident Advisory Board President Jesse Lawrence said she also sees the need for more maintenance.
“They’ve been cutting people where they should not have cut them,” she said. “We don’t have enough maintenance people doing what needs to be done.”
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...