Fort Worth housing fund crisis shows need for more public oversight

Once again the lack of oversight of a city housing department leads to waste and abuse and puts the federal funds in jeopardy.

The Fort Worth Weekly reported on May 19 that Jerome Walker the long-time deputy director of Fort Worth’s housing and economic development department was fired on May 7. Now the city’s funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is reported to be in jeopardy.

According to the FW Weekly…

The reasons for dismissal [of Walker] ranged from “poor quality work [in new and rehabilitated houses for the low-income and the poor], poor customer service [and] inappropriate use of grant funds to an overall disregard of management oversight and control.” Walker’s biggest sin was his misuse of millions of dollars of federal funds, which threatened the city’s future federal funding.

The housing deputy director’s termination memo outlines a disturbing range of problems with the City of Fort Worth’s housing programs.

According to the CBS TV station in Dallas, the city is now racing to rescue millions of dollars the city could lose because of sloppy paperwork. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development Department informed Fort Worth in May that it has not properly filed applications for the money, despite repeated warnings from the government.

If this year’s applications aren’t ready by noon today the city’s HUD funds could be lost.

Watch the CBS TV station’s story.

Here are two things I urge the City of Fort Worth to do immediately.

1) Many cities administer owner-occupied rehabilitation programs efficiently and effectively. It is a matter of hiring the proper management and holding them accountable for cleaning up the program. If necessary an independent auditor should be hired to oversee the city’s administration of this program until it operates effectively.

2) Housing programs would be better administered and problems will be avoided when they are operated in the clear light of day with adequate public scrutiny. To accomplish this, city housing departments should maintain on the Internet an ongoing accounting showing where all housing funds are being spent, delineating the goals for each program and continuously updating the accomplishments toward meeting those goals.

Not only Fort Worth but all city councils should put this later reform in place immediately. If they do not, the Texas Legislature should make this a requirement during the next legislative session.