As the American people shop for and wrap final Christmas gifts for their family and friends, the Obama administration announced on Thursday their own present from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In a press release on Thursday HUD stated:
In an effort to help families find decent housing and to prevent future foreclosures, the Obama Administration today announced nearly $73 million in housing counseling grants to more than 500 national, regional and local organizations. As a result of the funding announced today, hundreds of thousands of households will have a greater opportunity to find housing or keep the homes they have because of the housing counseling and counseling training grants awarded today by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
According to the announcement, “$13 million, or 22 percent increase over last year’s funding level.” HUD is awarding more than $5 million to three national organizations to help train 4,500 counselors to “receive the instruction and certification necessary to effectively assist families with their housing needs.”
The money will also go towards agencies to provide “medical costs, and other living expenses” for elderly homeowners and counseling services to “help people become or remain homeowners or find rental housing, and assist homeless persons in finding the transitional housing they need to move toward a permanent place to live.” 2010 state grant descriptions from the news release are listed here and includes:
National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
Washington, DC $1,153,564– Comprehensive Counseling $1,325,000 – Housing Counseling Training
Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation dba NeighborWorks America
Washington, DC $1,580,346 – Comprehensive Counseling $300,000 – Reverse Mortgage Counseling $3,050,001 – Housing Counseling Training
National Council on Aging (NCOA)
Washington, DC $1,048,002 – Comprehensive Counseling
National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC)
Washington, DC $1,438,085 – Comprehensive Counseling $749,999 – Housing Counseling Training
HUD has been under increased scrutiny in recent years for its ties to the scandal ridden ACORN Housing Corporation. Fox News reported in September of 2009:
Conservatives have cheered the Census Bureau’s decision to sever ties with ACORN because it had lost confidence in the group, but the hidden-camera videos that prompted ACORN to fire four workers this week could raise more questions about the federal funding ACORN receives for housing outreach.
ACORN Housing Corporation received $1.6 million to provide housing services to low-income communities in this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, according to USASpending.gov, a federal government Web site for tracking government grants.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development Grants has given $8.2 million to ACORN in the years between 2003 and 2006, as well as $1.6million to ACORN affiliates. HUD could not be reached for comment.
The hidden-camera videos, released this week, showed workers in two separate ACORN housing offices apparently helping a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute evade the IRS and apply for an illegal housing loan for a brothel. A 25-year-old independent filmmaker, James O’Keefe, posed as the pimp in the undercover expose, which was conceived by a friend, 20-year-old Hannah Giles, who posed as a prostitute.
More recently, a HUD Inspector General report in September 2010 detailed ACORN’s housing counseling grant scams. Congressman Darrell Issa, California Republican and soon-to-be Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committeereleased a statement in response to the IG report:
In response to a September 16, 2009 request by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Inspections and Evaluations Division of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has released a report “detailing the results of its investigation of grant funds awarded under HUD’s Housing Counseling Program to ACORN Housing Corporation, Inc. (AHC) of Chicago, now operating as Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA).”
“For continued approval as a HUD-approved housing counseling agency and for future awards consideration, AHC (now operating as AHCOA) must bring its operations into full compliance with applicable laws, regulators, and policies governing HUD’s Housing Counseling Program,” the OIG’s report recommends. “The inability to fully support salary expenses allocated to the HUD grant raises serious concerns about the integrity of those charges, particularly given the millions of Federal and non-Federal dollars made available to AHC in FY 2008 and 2009. Further, services procured from ACORN “associated” organizations failed to meet the required tests of ‘open and free competition’. We recommend that HUD’s Office of Single Family Housing, Program Support Division consider placing AHCOA in ‘inactive’ status while its initiatives corrective actions to address the exceptions and recommendations in this report.”
“Any organization that applies for and accepts taxpayer dollars has a responsibility to act consistently with federal law,” said Issa. “It doesn’t matter if its ten dollars or ten thousand dollars, there is no acceptable amount of abuse or mismanagement that the federal government should tolerate when it comes to the taxpayer’s dollars.”