AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Audit: Public housing program to promote innovation, efficiency has big legal bills

Public housing agencies in a special program to experiment with new ways to provide housing for the poor tend to spend far more money on legal bills than others that don’t participate, according to a recent report.

On average, the largest agencies in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Moving to Work” program spend nearly twice as much per housing unit on legal costs than their counterparts outside of it, the report by HUD's Office of the Inspector General states.

Mid-to-large-sized agencies spend nearly five times as much.

“Moving to Work” is supposed to promote efficient use of federal dollars, help residents find employment, and increase housing choices for low-income families.

The report found that oversight of legal costs “was not adequate to ensure that costs were reasonable and necessary,” it found. The federal housing agency did not monitor this type of expense because it’s a small part of HUD's overall budget, it states.

The Atlanta Housing Authority is a Moving to Work participant.  At nearly $8.1 million, its legal bills from fiscal years 2010 through 2015 are the 11th highest in the nation, according to the report.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority ranked highest, with nearly $30 million in expenses. A 2011 audit of that agency showed that legal contracts went to a law firm that employed its chairman’s son.

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