Hiring too many employees and expending too many resources aren’t the only causes for Chattanooga Housing Authority’s loss of money, according to CHA documents obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
File audits conducted this year by a former housing authority employee show about $8,000 lost because residents at one housing complex were not charged rent or were charged incorrectly.
“Ms. (Sandra) Wofford lived in Emma Wheeler Homes for one year without paying rent,” according to a file audit conducted by former CHA employee Shirley Smith.
Ms. Smith declined comment.
The file audits were obtained just months after housing authority officials laid off 65 employees and announced a $4.5 million shortfall in the authority’s budget. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently completed a review of the housing authority’s books to see what led to the shortfall.
Ms. Wofford is one of eight Emma Wheeler Homes resident files that the Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained. All files show the residents were undercharged for rent. Uncollected fees for the eight range from $300 to more than $2,000.
CHA’s chief of public information Bill Lord declined to comment about the rent miscalculations, stating in an e-mail that the files were removed without CHA knowledge and that they may contain confidential resident information.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said calculating rent is a complicated process and some errors are to be expected. HUD has created a rental integrity monitoring system that helps agencies catch and address errors, said Mark Brezina, field director at HUD’s Knoxville office. They also have a rental integrity monitoring system that helps the housing authority address errors, Mr. Brezina said.
Mr. Brezina also commended the housing authority on having an in-house auditing system in place.
CHA’s highest loss at Emma Wheeler is $2,457 for Ms. Wofford’s rent, according to the audit dated April 8, 2008.
“I was never charged rent,” said Ms. Wofford. “They couldn’t get me in the system, so they didn’t take my money order.”
The file audit sheet states: “These fines were never charged to Ms. Wofford because the unit was in the system as being vacant.”
Ms. Wofford said she came to the housing authority in need of emergency housing because her previous home was in a fire. She held her rent payments from August 2006 until December 2006 before beginning to spend the money, she said.
She said she had made several calls to the Emma Wheeler Homes housing office before buying Christmas gifts for her children with some of the money.
CHA employee Connie Fisher completed Ms. Wofford’s leasing paperwork but did not enter her into the system, according to the documents. Ms. Wofford did not pay rent until Sept. 1, 2007, after living at the site since Aug. 25, 2006, the documents said.
Ms. Fisher could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Wofford said she had to make sure she was listed with the housing agency in August 2007 so her children would have the paperwork needed for school. She said housing officials didn’t ask her to repay the money, but started charging her rent at that point.
Resident Willie Belcher’s rent was once calculated to be $392, but when the $50 that she paid as a security deposit was listed as rent, she paid $50 rent for the next four months.
“There is no lease in the file that reflects a rent amount of $392. It was never completed,” according to the audit. Her rent adjustments and late fees total $1,631, the audit shows.
Ms. Belcher could not be reached for comment.
Resident Muriel Baker continued to pay $50 rent for four months from August 2007 to December 2007, even though she reported having a job and was told that her rent would increase to $226.
“They told me my rent was one thing,” Ms. Baker said. “A couple of hours later, I get a letter in my door saying my rent is going to be something else. They said, ‘Pay the lowest one.’”
Her monthly rent was set at $226 from August through October, then increased to $266 in November and December after Ms. Baker reported that her daughter, who lives with her, was employed at Long John Silver’s.
She accumulated $1,195 in fines and back rent, according to the file audit.
“As long as it’s being corrected, I’m OK with that,” she said.
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 ...