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Quincy Housing Authority struggles with housing turnovers, state audit said

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  December 3, 2012 02:36 PM

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Almost four-dozen low-income housing units in Quincy were vacant longer than that should have been, according to a state audit, causing the city’s Housing Authority to lose much needed rent money.

Quincy’s Housing Authority was one of 26 in Massachusetts authorities to be reviewed under the audit, and was one of 22 that had housing units that were vacant longer than a time frame that asks housing officials to fill open units within 21 days.

According to the audit, when asked to determine why the houses had remained vacant, employees from numerous housing authorities said problems included a lack of funding from DHCD, limited maintenance staff, the age of the buildings, multiple refusals by applicants, poor location or inadequate size of units, and neglect and mismanagement of buildings.

Other reasons included excessive or extraordinary maintenance required to prepare units for occupancy; maintenance work not being prioritized for vacant units; and multiple vacancies occurring simultaneously, which slowed down overall unit preparation.

Out of Quincy’s 938 units, 38 remained vacant beyond the 21 days, with an average turnaround of 36 days.

Two additional units were vacant beyond 21-days, and were filled within 25 and 24 days.

Overall, $6,437 was lost in potential rental income.

Quincy’s Housing Authority is by no means the worst offender on the audit list, with some communities, such as New Bedford and Peabody, having average turnarounds that are hundreds of days long.

Between all the communities surveyed, a total of $1.6 million was subsequently not collected in rents, the audit says.

“By not refurbishing vacant units within 21 working days as recommended by DHCD, the LHAs have deprived eligible applicants on their waiting lists of affordable housing and lost the opportunity to earn much-needed rental income,” the audit states.

Auditors suggested that the housing authorities found in violation of the mandate prioritize renovations and seek out Department of Housing and Community Development funding for extensive maintenance needs.

Representatives from the Quincy Housing Authority did not return repeated calls for comment about the audit, however in a memo sent to the Board of Commissioners, Joseph MacRitchie, Executive Director, defended Quincy's actions.

According to MacRitchie, when all vacancy turnovers are averaged, QHA meets the 21 day benchmark established by DHCD.

Additionally, Quincy has made stark improvements from previous audits.

In 2004, an audit concluded that in Fiscal Year 2003, Quincy's Housing Authority had a potential lost income of $181,000 with an average turnaround time of 371 days for family units.

Improvements were since seen in a 2006 audit, that concluded that during the period of July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2005, Quincy's turnaround time in family units was 213 days and elderly units was 40 days.

Quincy's Housing Authority has also collected $136,180 in excess of approved budgets, according to an audit from 2008 to 2010.

"Although the current audit identified $6,437 as potential lost rental income, the field auditor characterized this amount as insignificant during the exit conference that was held on March 2, 2011,"MacRitchie said. "In fact this figure, which averages $221.96 per month during the 29 month audit period, is 98.5% lower than the figure contained in the 2004 report."

Representatives from Quincy’s Mayor’s office maintained that the Housing Authority is a separate entity and could not comment on the audit or its implications.

Meanwhile, within the audit, Department of Housing and Community Development officials said that it is an area on which they are continually working, allocating $2 million to help bring vacant units online and issuing training to local housing authorities.

Governor Deval Patrick has also authorized a study to review the public housing process, which will look at the 21-day requirement.

To see the full audit, click here.

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