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La Joya Housing Authority board considers three-year contract with executive director

The La Joya Housing Authority board is considering a three-year contract with Executive Director Ruben Villarreal, who would earn an $84,000 annual salary.

Villarreal — the former mayor of Rio Grande City — is the fourth person to hold the position during the past 12 months. Approving a three-year contract may insulate the executive director from political pressure and provide stability for the five-person staff.

Ruben Villarreal Photo“The biggest thing that I will tell you that it brings is stability,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal, who accepted the job on Sept. 4, said he spent the past three weeks reading U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations.

HUD designated the housing authority “troubled” in April, when it flunked a Public Housing Assessment.

“The failing score is due to the Authority spending more than it earns, poor rent collection, and below average occupancy of units,” Office of Public Housing Director David Pohler wrote to the board in July. “The La Joya Housing Authority has a history of corrupt management and poor oversight by the Board of Commissioners.”

Pohler asked the housing authority to submit a performance improvement plan.

“Alternatively, we recommend the Board consider transferring the Authority’s programs to a neighboring Housing Authority that can provide proper oversight and administration,” according to the letter.

Villarreal said he’s focused on building a better relationship with HUD and addressing concerns about compliance.

He’s also juggling the cash-strapped housing authority’s bills, attempting to track down minutes from board meetings and supervising employees with minimal housing authority experience.

“It’s going to take three solid years,” Villarreal said, but he wants to make the housing authority a model for South Texas.

Along with meeting HUD requirements, the housing authority must build relationships with tenants, Villarreal said, not just focus on collecting rent.

He partnered with the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank to start a food pantry for tenants, contacted the Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center about starting a small library for children and talked with a health coach about holding free classes.

“We want activities here as often as possible,” Villarreal said.

The housing authority board attempted to discuss Villarreal’s employment contract Wednesday night.

Board President John Pena, Commissioner Jorge Bazan and Commissioner German Reyna arrived before the meeting started at 7 p.m., but Bazan left abruptly and Pena canceled the meeting for lack of quorum.

“Mr. Ruben Villarreal is doing an excellent job,” Pena said.

Villarreal said the proposed employment contract included a three-year term with an option for an additional year, an $84,000 annual salary, a $500 monthly car allowance and standard benefits.

He would earn significantly more than former Executive Director Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza, who received a $63,000 annual salary, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.

Villarreal may also earn more than La Joya City Manager Jacqueline Bazan. The La Joya City Commission agreed to pay her $81,000 in July.

The proposed salary, however, is less than what the Mission Housing Authority paid Executive Director Joel A. Gonzalez, who earned nearly $117,000 before he became a part-time employee.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 27, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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