Augusta housing groups 'scrambling' to avoid repaying HUD

Community Housing Development Organizations
The Community Housing Development Organizations are on defense after attempts to tackle old dilapidated homes failed to meet federal standards. (WRDW-TV / June 18, 2012)
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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, June 18, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta commissioners are demanding answers from local community housing development organizations.

The city just paid back more than $300,000 to the federal government for a supposed mistake, and it may not be the last time.

"We understand that we are held accountable," said Scylance Scott, executive director of Antioch Ministries Inc., one of several Augusta Community Housing Development Organizations or CHODOS.

The CHODOS are on defense after attempts to tackle old dilapidated homes failed to meet federal standards.

"We as CHODOS are asked to go into portions of the community where no for-profit company would dare to go," Scott said.

The group went before commissioners explaining a mistake that forced the city to repay more than $300,000 to HUD.

"The process itself is difficult," Scott said. "It is going to be even more difficult with the new proposed HOME rules."

CHODOS simply missed the five-year deadline to complete local projects, and it's not going to get any easier. New federal guidelines will reduce the deadline to close projects to four years.

"Everybody is scrambling to make sure that we remain in compliance," Scott said.

This comes as a housing manager was suspended for four days without pay for "willful neglect in performance of duties."

City leaders insist they are making changes.

"Changes not only on legal items," said Housing Director Chester Wheeler, "but on how we do business."

Wheeler says all new contracts will include "clawbacks."

"That will be in the contract," Wheeler said. "If something goes awry, you have a liability on the books that you are going to pay us our money back."

"What took so long?" News 12's Chris Thomas asked. "Isn't that common sense?"

"It is just a basic contract flaw that wasn't there," Wheeler replied.