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La Joya Housing Authority approves recovery agreement plan – again

In what its executive director is calling a “big stepping stone” to get the La Joya Housing Authority out of its “troubled” status with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency approved a second action plan to fix its myriad of financial and management problems.

During their Tuesday meeting, directors with the housing authority met and approved the final recovery agreement plan provided by HUD to fix several issues from a 2017-2018 audit.

“It’s to cure the wrongs that existed before,” Executive Director Ruben Villarreal said. “We approved a different action plan last November and we seemed to satisfy the requirements of that action plan but [HUD] emailed us last week and sent us this ‘final action plan’ in their own words. It’s a bit surprising.”

Last fall, the La Joya Housing Authority was ordered by HUD to fix several damning issues found in a 2018 audit which revealed the housing authority improperly transferred nearly $20,000 between accounts, more than half of the tenants weren’t paying their rent on time and minutes from board meetings were missing.

The audit, which was approved in May of last year, covered the time when Interim Executive Director Frances A. Salinas, the daughter of Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, supervised day-to-day operations. She was fired in October 2018 and eventually arrested along with former board member Sylvia Garces-Valdez on wire fraud charges.

Due to the poor audit review, HUD cut off funding for the housing authority last year and only reinstated it January 2020.

“The previous administrators were misspending money in unethical, possibly illegal ways that had a lot to do with HUD’s view of us. HUD hasn’t made it easy on us these last few years,” Villarreal said. “Based on this final agreement plan they’re not giving us any breaks and that’s OK. If they’re going to put us through the gauntlet, put us through it, we have the staff and team to take it.”

Following the initial agreement plan, the housing authority took action to fix several issues in the audit such as documenting its meetings, reducing the rent delinquency rate to less than three percent and keeping records of employee time sheets.

The second agreement plan, however, now calls for the housing authority to have staff and board members attend trainings for a myriad of subjects to run the board. In the agreement plan, separate teams are also supposed to meet with the board to survey the property and the documents provided by the housing authority.

“We have until December 2021 to complete this,” Villarreal said of the final action plan. “It’s a huge step forward, when we first started as a team ready to reorganize and revamp ourselves, the confidence that HUD had in us was extremely low. In some of their emails they sent us they recommended we merge with a neighboring housing authority for them to fix our problems. I took it as a challenge and everyone rallied together around the goal of being an exemplary housing authority that can hold its own against any.”

Board members at the Tuesday meeting also expressed confidence in tackling the action plan.

“HUD expects full compliance, that’s what we’re going to give,” Vice-Chairman Jorge Bazan said.

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