End of an era at OHA

Among those in attendance at the OHA board of commissioners meeting Tuesday, May

After nearly a decade at the Orange Housing Authority (OHA), president of the board of commissioners Mary McKenna has moved on to greener pastures, now representing taxpayers as a member of the Orange City Council instead. During the last few years of her tenure at OHA, McKenna has seen the departure of two executive directors; one was let go rather than outright fired after a report from federal HUD inspectors alleged the housing authority and then-director Frank Anderson was guilty of financial and procurement mismanagement, while the other was terminated for reporting similar allegations to HUD after the prior director’s departure.

At an OHA board of commissioners meeting Tuesday, May 21, McKenna sat in the audience while the remaining members of the board conducted business. Sitting in the president’s chair was long-time board member Michael Combs.

Combs and fellow commissioners received reports from the OHA staff as to the state of the agency. Among those reports were claims of financial hardship mixed with requests for new computers, a 2013 Equinox SUV, and the revelation of a $250,000 check that would be placed in a money market account separate of reportable OHA funds. Also reported at the meeting were the results of a recent conference with HUD officials voiced by interim executive director Lanita Brown.

“They are suggesting very strongly that we enact very aggressive cost-saving measures for the Housing Choice Vouchers Program,” she said, adding that OHA will not be able to issue any new housing vouchers to needy residents and is having trouble covering the vouchers already in existence.

“Houston HUD is checking with other cities to see if they can absorb some of the resident vouchers already being used,” she said. “That will make the agency eligible to receive additional set-aside money.”

Additional funding should be awarded in about two weeks, Brown said.

But while the fund that provides for subsidized housing to families seeking assistance is in peril, the agency was able to approve more than $100,000 in spending from the OHA capital fund at the same meeting. Approved for extra expenditure was more than $23,000 for a new five-seat SUV to be “beneficial and cost-effective” for employee excursions; the purchase of two new professional grade mowers; roughly $47,000 for administrative fees, employee travel and legal fees; an undisclosed amount for “the latest business computer” packages from Dell; and another $29,000 approved for other miscellaneous costs accrued by the agency.

Brown additionally reported the agency came into possession of $250,000 in developer’s fee paybacks, but none of that funding would be used to the benefit of OHA or its residents, saying that the funds will be placed in a money market account under a nonprofit arm of the agency.

A public meeting of the nonprofit receiving the developer’s fee funds was held after the OHA commissioners meeting, but no discussion of the quarter-million payout was mentioned at that time.