PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority (PRHA) is preparing for a visit from the federal government.
In December, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will do an on-site review of the PRHA. If you talk to Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas, she thinks HUD could come in, take over, and it’s possible they could bring their own employees.
In the Oct. 14 letter to Interim Executive Director Donnell Brown, HUD Satellite Office Director Paul Aprigliano writes, “We will evaluate the Board of Commissioner’s ability to govern, examine financial operations and review internal control policies and procedures.”
This latest on-site review follows a 10 On Your Side investigation which showed that the PRHA board has lost the confidence of city leaders.
Repeated calls and emails to HUD were not returned, but in Portsmouth, there’s great concern on what is outlined in the letter sent calling for the on-site inspection.
“It’s appalling,” Portsmouth Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas said while looking at the list of 28 areas of concerns HUD has with PRHA. “The city council appoints that board, and that’s why I brought it up some months ago. We need to get rid of those people. They are clearly out of control, and they are taking the housing authority we are so proud of, and taking it down the toilet.”
PRHA Interim Executive Director Donnell Brown responded.
“I am sure she has a reason to say that. I don’t know what her reasons are… thinking all the board members need to be replaced,”
Psimas’ reasons include these: HUD raised several concerns about PRHA, which WAVY News first reported about in July. There are serious issues with PRHA’s failure to properly use Section 8 funds, and concerns with how contracts are bid.
Now, HUD’s Department Enforcement Center raises new concerns to assess PRHA’s governance and financial management in particular — Board members Psimas says have to go.
“This means HUD will come in and do a forensic audit of all their procedures and policies. It could be the PRHA is taken over by the federal authorities. ”
Brown, who is set to leave in February, says she would be surprised if HUD took over PRHA.
“I would say 90 percent or more of the things on that list are reviewed under our audit, and nothing was found in the audit, so I don’t think they are going to find anything on that list.”
HUD goes on and lists concerns on how the authority is governed and about how cash is managed. They want lists of credit cards and inventory.
Brown says, “I didn’t get excited about it, because those are the usual documents they would ask for to do a review.”
Brown may not be excited, but Psimas surely is, as this on-site review follows one in March and Psimas blames Authority Board Chair Flossie Bridgeford for creating discontent, and incompetence among board members.
“They have chased away some of the best employees they have ever had who did great things with PRHA,” Psimas said.
Brown supports Bridgeford.
“She truly cares about these residents, and she cares about the residents of this agency,” Brown said.
10 On Your Side went to Bridgeford’s home and left messages, but she did not return our calls.
HUD also wants “all board approval/resolutions for the past 12 months.”
As WAVY first reported in July, HUD raised concerns about the board dismissing the better qualified legal firm, even though that firm scored better than the lower scoring firm that got the contract. Psimas says that is a huge cost to taxpayers.
“A lawsuit ensued because of that… cost taxpayers money. The case was dropped, but I understand the PRHA is paying three lawyers and one I understand at $400 an hour.”
10 On Your Side asked Brown about that, and she told us the contract was rebid in August, and all the information was sent to HUD for approval. Who was chosen? Brown started answering and then caught herself.
“The one chosen, there was a combination of people. I can’t discuss it because the contracts have not been awarded.”
That was an interesting answer to that question, so there possibly could be more than one law firm.
It is important to note, Donnell Brown was brought in as interim director after Hal Short was fired in August. 10 On Your Side has gone to her twice for interviews when she probably preferred not to be interviewed, but both times she agreed to talk and to take all questions. She said she cares a lot about transparency.
Aprigliano said in the letter that the review will be conducted Dec. 5 through Dec. 8.