By Rachael Stark and Brandon M. Stickney
Special to the Express
NIAGARA FALLS - The city mismanaged HUD housing in downtown for multiple years, yet the program may be on a rebound, according to three independent accounting reports, one dating to 2019.
Though the HUD program here received a passing grade in May 2023, Clifford Scott, its executive director, left in July, and at least one former tenant remains "suspicious" of the city's issues with low income housing.
She said, "How will they stay on the right path here?"
It is suspected that some financial records, employee hours, building and repair material costs, and other matters—associated with HUD residences designated for the city’s physically, mentally, financially, and otherwise life-challenged people—were incomplete, inaccurate, or nonexistent, according to two previous accounting firm audits.
Two independent audits (from 2019 and 2022) of housing unit management were studied by the Niagara Express online, at the request of a few former tenants and others during the recent $79 million in renovations to multiple complexes.
The newest, more positive HUD audit, released in May 2023, remains under review by the Express.
Previous federal regulation compliance violations by the city included:
- Failure to keep accurate records of HUD employee timecards, as mandated by the city’s contract with the federal government
- Lack of oversight on HUD hours caused gaps in the public record or verifiable evidence that workers were doing what they claimed, or that they were at specific locations, as claimed
- The audits cite overspending, and holes in material inventory tracking; the city blamed dated ethics guidelines, resulting in "nepotism" or "unfair" practices with Section 8 vouchers
- Failure, in some cases, to ensure that some HUD residents remained qualified
- No review of “rent comparisons,” while some rents were out of compliance with HUD guidelines
- Late or inaccurate budget submissions outside of HUD deadlines and contractual “lines-of-credit” guidelines
- Apparently, a lack of adherance to grant time allotments, and some hours filed under an expired or pending grant
NOTE: The city claimed that “significant employee turnover” caused some compliance issues, while COVID was also blamed
A former tenant, who was told to vacate her HUD apartment in August 2023, said that building managers who regularly worked with tenants on apartment rentals, day-to-day matters, and evictions were "unfair" and "purposefully critical" of some apartment residents, while some others "got away with anything."
The former resident said she was "harassed and traumatized" by a female front office manager who "accused her unjustly and incorrectly of breaking the building's rules." The manager in question has since left the company.
Meanwhile, the victim says she is planning to ask HUD and the city to allow her back as a tenant.
"No one there wanted to hear my side of the story," she said. "They refused to hear the truth."